Kids with autism get a 'steady' friend

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Kids with autism get a steady friend
Reem Al Marzouqi with her invention, Mozo.

Dubai - 25-year-old Emirati engineer designs robotic teddy bear that can communicate with them.


Asma Ali Zain

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Published: Sat 5 Dec 2015, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 6 Dec 2015, 3:53 PM

Mozo is a unique teddy bear. Though soft and fluffy, Mozo is essentially a robot specially designed to help autistic children.
Reem Al Marzouqi, the 25-year-old Emirati engineer who designed Mozo is thrilled with the successful breakthrough the toy has had with children with autism.
"The kids feel comfortable with Mozo which is a breakthrough.they hug him and talk to him and even make eye contact though we know that it is really difficult to expect such behaviour from autistic kids," she said.
Mozo was born when Reem saw her neighbour's child struggle after their nanny quit.
"The child was in shock after his nanny - whom he was familiar with - quit. He could not adjust and communicate with the new person. As I saw the case aggravate, I thought why not give the child a permanent friend," explained Reem.
The child was excited and chose the teddy bear as his friend. "So I added a voice to it and then some robotic dance moves. Also it has ears as well as a camera fitted behind its eyes so that the child could be monitored on a regular basis," she said. After these additions, Mozo could now follow simple commands and is controlled through a simple mobile app. "The kids feel totally free and comfortable with it and parents are happy that their child is able to come out of their bubble."
The robot speaks in Emirati Arabic and follows the Emirati behaviour and culture. It is very appealing to kids because it's essentially a huge teddy bear that has the ability to hug children and speak to them. "It works using a simple mobile friendly app and therapists can create a separate profile for every child and design individualised treatment plans."
Parents can also use Mozo at home. Therapists and parents do not need to be in the same room as the robot's eyes have cameras so they can monitor progress of the child from far away. "This gives the child an opportunity to directly communicate with his cute teddy friend. So far clinical trials using Mozo have proved that it does help improve communication skills of children with autism," she said.
According to therapists, kids have started imitating Mozo and also trying to make eye contact with the teddy bear. "Normally when an autistic child is asked a question, they repeat the question," said Reem.
Reem is the first citizen of the UAE to be granted a patent in the US for designing a car that can be driven without using hands. She has a total of four innovations under her name so far.
"So we did an experiment using Mozo. We made the kids watch someone ask a question to the robot such as "what is your name?" The robot replied with the name instead of repeating the question and this was imitated by the we succeeded," she added.
Currently there is only one prototype of the Emirati robot while 50 more are being planned for commercial use. "We are trying to develop a perfect robot for all spectrums of autism," said Reem. The robots will be given to Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian and Special Needs.
The closest invention to Mozo is a humanoid called 'Milo' made in the US. "But kids don't find it that cute," said Reem. 

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