Bots aiding region’s children

Brendan and Briana, who also goes by Bree, are pioneers in autism research.

The pair are currently spearheading development of groundbreaking, innovative approaches to skill development therapy at the Barber National Institute in Erie.

It’s pretty impressive for a pair that doesn’t have an advanced degree between them. In fact, neither one of them has even reached double-digit age yet.

In fact, the pair aren’t even human. They’ve traveled all the way from Aldebaran, France, and they’re here to help.

Brendan and Briana are ASK (Autism Solutions for Kids) NAOs and they’re the focus of an ongoing research project being conducted jointly by Barber and the University of Notre Dame.

An NAO is a fully programmable, autonomous and interactive robot, according to Aldebaran Robotics of France, the company which produces the robots.

The pair stands just under two feet tall and weigh just over 11 pounds each. Despite their small size, they’re doing big things at Barber.

Next week, the Institute is inviting the public to hear about it.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, Barber will host a research update by Dr. Joshua Diehl, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and the man behind the Robot Therapy Research Project of the Barber National Institute and the University of Notre Dame, titled “Robots & Autism: The Impact, The Potential and The Future”. The event is free and open to the public.

Diehl’s project focuses on the possible effectiveness of utilizing robots to aid in the development of communication and social skills in children with autism.

After the project’s genesis at Notre Dame, the Barber Institute contacted Diehl to see if there was a possibility for collaboration.

“Because of our interest in autism here, I contacted Dr. Diehl,” Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, executive vice president at the Barber Institute, said. “We’re the only other research site in the country that is capable of meeting the protocols necessary for Dr. Diehl’s research.”

When Diehl was looking to expand his research to an additional site, Barber was a natural fit and a pilot phase began in April of last year.

“We really believe in, not just putting dollars into research, but putting them where they’re most effective,” Barber-Carey said. “That’s why this partnership with Notre Dame is so valuable.”

The Institute says preliminary results are promising and claims child participants in the program with autism have shown, “an increase in skill development when the robot is added to therapy sessions.”

“Dr. Diehl was here last year,” Barber-Carey recalled. “We just wanted to provide an update and some information on where the research is heading.”

While the event is free, the Institute asks those planning to attend to call 1-814-480-6831 with reservations, though it is not required.

“We invite anyone with an interest in autism or robotics to attend,” Barber-Carey said. “Dr. Diehl is an excellent speaker.”

The project is funded privately and those interested in providing funding may contact the institute at 1-814-878-4033 or by e-mail at

Further information on the project and the Institute is available at the Barber National Institute website at