A social robot to motivate young patients with amblyopia

Canadian researchers have developed a robot named Mirrly that provides children with information and support when undergoing treatment

A small white robot with a black and white patterned woolly hat with ear muffs stands on a red platform
Val Maloney/University of Waterloo

A team of optometry, engineering and psychology researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed a social robot to help children undergoing treatment for amblyopia.

The robot, named Mirrly, can interact with patients in clinic, before being taken home to provide further support, information and motivation through an online platform.

Project lead, Dr Ben Thompson, of the University of Waterloo school of optometry and vision science, shared that social robots have been used effectively in various settings before including restaurants – but not in eye care.

“This project is proof of concept to see if we can use them effectively for patient education,” he said.

Dr Kerstin Dautenhahn, of Waterloo’s department of electrical and computer engineering, shared that she is optimistic that the robot is capable of leading to behavioural change.

“Compared with using a tablet or computer, there is a lot of research that shows children find working with social robots more enjoyable; they want to interact with them,” she said.

“A robot can motivate and encourage children,” Dautenhahn added.

Dr Maureen Drysdale, of St. Jerome’s University, added that the robot may also improve the wellbeing of parents by reducing the pressure on them to help their child adhere to treatment.

Main image: Mirrly, a robot used by University of Waterloo researchers to help patients with amblyopia.