NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – His name is NOA — pronounced “now” — and he may be the future of autism intervention.

The humanoid robot is part of a two-pronged research initiative aimed at helping kids with autism better socialize and communicate. It uses facial recognition to detect expressions and games that could one day provide the positive feedback and practice some people need to improve social interactions.

Dr. Khan Iftekharuddin, a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and the chair of electrical and computer engineering, is inspired by his nephew, who lives with autism.

“If there’s anything I can do, I should do,” he said.

It’s Khan’s drive to help his nephew and others that led to the two-part study.

The first part of the study uses web cameras to detect facial expressions. The computer deciphers these expressions of normally developing kids. It also detects the lack of expression on the face of a child with autism.

“And then the computer automatically tells us if this child is happy or sad,” Khan said.

The idea is to use this information to develop interventions and, possibly, games. They’ve already come up with a version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” that kids can play with the robot.

“A platform like this could be in a clinicians’ setting where these kids can spend time,” Khan said.

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