Tanglebots are made by harvesting motors, gears and other parts from broken toys (credit Dave Griffiths, FoAM)

‘Tanglebots’ to encourage teamwork in young people with autism

Robots made from recycled toys will be used to boost communication and teamwork among young people with autism and their families.

Programming “Tanglebots” to weave simple patterns from yarn will give young people and their families a “shared goal”, according to organisers of a workshop.

As well as providing a “messy introduction into weaving, robotics and coding”, the Tanglebots will improve adults’ understanding of technology.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter and FoAM Kernow, a Penryn-based non-profit organisation which describes itself as a “network of transdisciplinary labs at the intersection of art, science, nature and everyday life”.

Dr Amanda Lucas, of the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, said: “A central difficulty for individuals with autism is identifying with the perceptions and goals of others.

“This can hinder their enormous potential for collaboration.

“There is good evidence that technology can help foster cooperation in children with autism.

“The idea of Tanglebots is to harness young people’s special interest in technology to create a shared goal – between the young people and their families – of building and programming a robot to create patterns of thread.”

Dr Alex Thornton, also of the University of Exeter, added: “This will also demystify technology for parents, enabling them to use it as a vehicle to promote coordination and communication.”

Six young people with autism and their families, along with autism support providers from around the South West, will take part in the workshop at the Jubilee Warehouse in Penryn on Saturday 11 March.

Organisers will then consider their feedback and use it to improve the project and to run a series of Tanglebots events in the future.

Tanglebots are made by harvesting motors, gears and other parts from broken toys, and using visual programming to control these components to make tangles and patterns of yarn.

The organisers have space for one more young person with autism and their family to take part on 11 March.

If you have a child diagnosed with autism aged 11-15 years and would be interested in attending this or future workshops, then please email Amanda Lucas on a.j.lucas2@exeter.ac.uk

The workshop will run as part of British Science Week and is funded by Economic and Social Research Council and the British Science Association.  

Date: 28 February 2017

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