Character Assisted Therapy Pilot Project

Thanks to a Spark grant from the Sprout Fund, Interbots will be starting to explore applications of our robotic platform in the field of autism therapy tools. This project, titled “Character Therapy”, will take place during fall 2010 in conjunction with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh.

Through interactive play with our emotionally expressive robot, Popchilla, we hope to improve autistic children’s responses to social cues. Skills we be exploring include responding to directives, making and maintaining eye contact, recognizing emotions, expressing emotion, and engaging in conversation.

An easy-to-use remote allows therapists to control our robot, Popchilla, directing where the character looks and what emotion it expresses. The therapist can also speak into a microphone in the remote, which pitch shifts their voice and transmits it to a speaker in the robot. The robot’s mouth moves in synch with the audio, allowing the therapist to effectively speak for Popchilla.

While Autism is a new area of research for Interbots, we have been working with these technologies in the past, including iPhone and iPad apps that work with robots. To see more about of some of our work in action please visit our YouTube channel and our blog.

If you would like to contact us regarding the Interbots “Character Therapy” project, please email

Media Material

The following material information is provided for use in Media Coverage of this project. If you plan to publish a story that includes references to Interbots or the Character Therapy project, please let us know.

Interbots Quotes

“We’ve had numerous people, including parents, tell us our robots could be tremendous tools for Autism therapy. We’re excited to be working with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh and the Sprout Foundation to take this first step. We’re going to learn a lot from the next few months.”
-Seema Patel, Interbots, CEO & Co-Founder

“Our emphasis has always been making the use and control of our robots as simple and flexible as possible. You don’t need to have a technical background to control our characters. You can control them with a variety of other devices. So that opens a lot of interesting applications, like having a therapist or a parent use our robots as a tool to interact with children – even the possibility of kids using the robot to express themselves and explore emotions on their own.”
-Sabrina Haskell, Interbots, Designer & Co-Founder

“There are three big things that excite us about the iPad. The first is the touch screen interface – touch is such an intuitive interaction for adults and children. The second is the great development environment which allows for short development cycles. Finally, the iTunes store is a great distribution channel and will allow us to share the Character Assisted Therapy applications with the Autism community.”
-Seema Patel, Interbots, CEO & Co-Founder

Why the iPad?

We are working the iPad because it provides a fun and intuitive interface for kids.

How exactly will the applications work?

We are exploring a lot of different approaches to improve social cues. Details of how the applications work will be available after the study completes in early 2011.

What is the X of your pilot? (size, duration, frequency, conclusion)

Exact details on the study will be made available at the end of the study in early 2011.

What can you tell us about your robot?

Popchilla is a emotionally expressive puppeteerable robot that can interact with many hardware devices. Popchilla expresses emotion through ear position, eyelid position, and eye color. Its control system is a miniaturized version of the robotic control system we use in our high end animatronics to provide engaging, memorable live performances.

How can parents enroll their children in the Character Therapy pilot?

Enrollment is being handled by the Autism Center of Pittsburgh.

What can you tell us about the Sprout Fund?

Spark is an initiative of The Sprout Fund catalyzing projects and programs that engage children ages birth to eight through the creative use of technology and media. Spark challenges individuals, organizations, and communities to generate inventive technology-based solutions to the issues and opportunities facing today’s young child. Through its funding opportunities and extensive network of support, Spark is unleashing the innovative potential of Southwestern Pennsylvania and transforming our region into one of the best places on earth to be a kid.
The Sprout Fund enriches the Pittsburgh region’s vitality by engaging citizens, amplifying voices, supporting creativity and innovation, and cultivating connected communities. Founded in 2001, Sprout facilitates community-led solutions to regional challenges and supports efforts to create a thriving, progressive, and culturally diverse region.

What can you tell us about the Autism Center of Pittsburgh?

Cindy Waeltermann is the main Autism Center contact for the Character Therapy project.

AutismLink, d/b/a the Autism Center of Pittsburgh, was founded in 2000 by the parent of two children with autism spectrum disorders to help parents across Pennsylvania find information, resources and support quickly and easily. AutismLink is now the single largest advocacy and information network on autism spectrum orders in Pennsylvania and has a large presence nationally.

Seeing the frustration and systemic problems in Western Pennsylvania due to lack of diagnosticians and service providers, AutismLink opened the Autism Center of Pittsburgh in the West Hills, North Hills and South Hills areas of Pittsburgh. The Centers retain licensed psychologists and psychiatrists who can conduct initial diagnosis and evaluation within 2-3 weeks of request. The Center also contracts with a pediatric therapy firm, Aspire Pediatric Therapy, to provide children with social skills groups, occupational therapy, speech therapy and more. At the time of diagnosis, volunteers and representatives from AutismLink are on hand to meet with the parents – to give them a compassionate and understanding shoulder, guide them on the process of obtaining services, and letting them know they are not alone in their journey.

More information about the Autism Center of Pittsburgh can be found on their site.

Images & Video

Please contact us for high resolution photos.

Let’s Make Shapes! – iPad + Robot Demo

Press Coverage

The following is a selection of articles that have been published by various sources about the Character Therapy project. Some of these articles were written without contact with Interbots. They may contain inaccuracies. We recommend you refer to the information on this page or contact Interbots at to verify information.

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