Movia – Humanoid Robots for Children with Autism
Who we are
Movia’s mission is to bring cutting-edge robotics technology together with expertise in learning, development and cognition to promote social and cognitive gains for children with autism and other developmental disorders. Our team consists of experts in engineering, software, psychology, and education. We combine our expertise to design products and solutions tailored to the needs of children, parents, schools, and clinicians. Our Robot-Assisted Instruction platform contains content appropriate for a wide range of developmental and chronological age groups to acquire, practice, and refine social, cognitive, academic, and life skills, all implemented via lessons and interactions with a humanoid robot.
Why a robot?
Our research and experience show that robots are an appealing and effective means of communication and instruction for children with ASD. Our humanoid robots are nonthreatening and fun, fulfilling a role that is a combination of peer, tutor, and friend. Robots are consistent and predictable in their behaviors, providing a solid foundation for children to practice skills. This is especially valuable for children with social and attentional difficulties, for whom the variability of others’ behavior might be confusing or anxiety-provoking. For children who find it difficult to maintain appropriate levels of task focus, the robot’s dependability is invaluable. Humanoid robots provide an accessible, consistent, and nonjudgmental platform for children with social difficulties to gain practice and a history of success with social interactions. Interactions with people are difficult to predict and control: People are inconsistent in mood and behavior, and actions that are successful in one setting or on one occasion may not be in others, leading to frustration and poor social outcomes. Practicing social skills with a friendly and predictable robot partner translates into children making social gains with peers.
General success story
We have conducted field and clinical trials in partnership with Blue Ocean Robotics, the University of Connecticut, and the West Hartford School District. Each of our studies has validated our approach: our clinical research shows that children with ASD show gains in both social and motor skills after programs of structured interaction with humanoid robots. Further, our field trials in West Hartford show students making ~50 percentage points worth of gains on target skill assessments after consistently working with our robot-assisted instruction program. But the most telling result is that over a 15-week school semester, students who work with the robot show no decrease in engagement from the beginning of sessions to the end of the year—the robot remains an appealing and highly positive social entity for students even after long familiarity.
What we do
Our primary offering is our Robot-Assisted Instruction software and the associated educational content. This software allows teachers, parents, and clinical caregivers to control a humanoid robot to engage a child in a variety of activities designed to bolster a variety of social and cognitive skills. Robots are available for rental or for purchase. Both options come with a service and support package, as well as access to our online content library. We currently operate in several schools in the Hartford area, and are expanding into districts throughout Connecticut and the Northeast. Working with Movia gives you not only the opportunity to use a new, effective, and appealing technique, but access to our staff of experts, who will help you with everything from software installation and troubleshooting to educational assessments and strategies for your child.
Timothy Gifford is an entrepreneur and researcher who is working to use advanced interactive technology to change the lives of children and adults. Gifford has created several companies and has an IP portfolio including licenses from UCONN and other entities. Gifford has consulted internationally and has presented on Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Collaborative Robotics, Human Perception and Assistive Technology. Gifford’s research goals include collaborative robotics and its application to special needs education. At the University of Connecticut Gifford was coinvestigator on a R21/R33 grant series from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health. The grant was entitled “Robot child interactions as an intervention tool for children with autism” with the goal of the study to develop novel and deployable intervention techniques for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Gifford is active in international business development and is a founding member of Hartford Health Works. Gifford is currently founder and Chief Technology Officer of Movia Robotics which received the Business Champions award in 2011, the Gold Award for Social Impact in 2015 and was featured in Fast Company magazine. Gifford was the Director of the Advanced Interactive Technology Center at the University of CT. Gifford’s companies have done work for NASA, Biogen, Bank of Boston, The World Economic Forum and The Smithsonian Institution. Gifford has won awards for business development, virtual reality implementation, filmmaking and animation.