Robot Companions and LEGO Engineering 8 weeks research study.


STUDY TITLE: Robotic Companion and LEGO Engineering

BACKGROUND: We are a research team from the Education and Engineering Departments at Tufts University who, along with external researchers, are interested in examining how LEGO robotics building activities can help students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) interact socially with others when a robot companion fosters this interaction by creating a context where social skills are required. Several previous studies conducted by most of the researchers involved with this project have shown that students with autism greatly enjoy group LEGO robotics building sessions and that their social skills improved over the duration of repeated therapy sessions.

PURPOSE AND DURATION: The project consists of an 8 week study (one two-hour session per week) in a workshop format during which the participants will build LEGO robots with a robot companion present. This robot is nearby as the students do a hands-on activity. The idea of the companion is to provide communication tips and encouragement, keep the kids focused on learning, and facilitate a social interaction between the students.

PROCEDURES: All sessions will take place at Tufts CEEO in Medford, MA, or CASPAN Center in Panama. You will have to bring your child to the center where your child is going to participate for each of the 8 sessions of the study. All the sessions will be held after school. Your child is not obligated to attend all of the workshops in order to participate in our research, although attendance is encouraged.

During each session, we will present the students with a new activity and break them up into teams of two to complete the activity. Partners will be selected at random during the first session and kids will keep the same partner for the remaining sessions. Each team will sit at a table with a laptop and a complete LEGO MINDSTORM EV3 set (The LEGO Robot). A Robot Companion (NAO Robot, AISOY Robot, or SAMSUNG Robot) will be on the table as a helper, social mediator, and will remind the kids of the time schedule.

The Co-Is will assist parents in filling out the Parent Study Questionnaire regarding their observations of changes in their child’s behavior and their feelings about the effectiveness of the robotics course.

The teacher that participates in the session fill out the Teacher study questionnaire regarding his/her observations of changes in the children behavior and his/her feelings about the effectiveness of the robotics course.

Researchers will evaluate the students’ behavior with several assessment tools. During each session, we will videotape the team interaction and their LEGO creations. Videos will be uploaded to a secure server (password-protected) at Tufts University. The information we collect will be confidential. Access to information will be granted only to researchers working on the project. Upon completion of the study, all data will be stored on a computer hard drive located at Tufts CEEO at a minimum of three years. After three years, the data will be deleted and the hard drive will be formatted.

RISK AND DISCOMFORTS: Participation in the study has minimal risk to participants because the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research is not greater than what is ordinarily encountered in daily life during performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests. Moreover, there is minor emotional risk related to social engagement with peers, instructors, or family. However, the goal of the workshop is to improve relationships and social skills and in the long term, increase the availability of future employment opportunities for participants so the emotional risk should actually diminish and hopefully be eliminated.

The previous experience of the research team should help to minimize potential risk: The PI of the project has been involved with projects related with children with ASD for the last 5 years, and the rest of researchers have publications and experience in the autism field.

COSTS AND BENEFITS: There is no cost to participating in the study. Furthermore, educational tech tools that enhance social and occupational functioning could help students with autism fulfill their academic potential and increase social skills. This could lead youth to future employment and secondary educational opportunities, so that they have a positive impact on society’s workforce (by boosting worker’s competency).

CONFIDENTIALITY: Paper consent forms, and Student Diagnosis and Treatment Information will be scanned to a password-protected computer and then destroyed. All data from the project will be digital and stored on a secure server located at Tufts University (CEEO, 200 Boston Ave, Medford) protected with an individual login and password. The data related to each participant will be coded with an identifier (it will be a letter) that the PI of the project will assign during the recruitment process.

WITHDRAWAL OF PARTICIPATION: You can withdraw from the study at any time with no negative consequences. You have the right to request that any or all of your child’s information collected to date be withdrawn.

The studies are going to take place in:

  • Medford (US) : Tufts CEEO Center
  • Panama City (PAN): CASPAN Center


For further information or to sign up for participating, please contact the PI of the project:


Dr. Jordi Albo-Canals      
Visiting Professor, Center for Engineering Education and Outreach
Tufts University
200 Boston Ave
Medford, MA  02155