For NASA scientist and robotics expert Dr. Ayanna Howard, the state of disability should not be a hindrance when it comes to improving the lives
of children, especially with the utilization of robotics as part of their therapy.
Howard posed this challenge when she presented her study “Robots for Helping the Human World” where she introduced robots as a means to
interact with children with disabilities.
Dr. Howard addressed a select audience of top executives of NGOs for PWDs, academics, including specialists in the nation’s leading health care
centers for support and rehab of PWDs at a luncheon jointly tendered by the US Embassy and SM Cares (corporate social responsibility arm of
the SM Malls) at the executive lounge of MOA Arena Annex.
“Most children, including children with disabilities, are attracted to robots. This natural affinity can be exploited…and would improve human
condition,” Howard said.
“Robotics is really tightly tied to education. It’s going to be as common as math. It’s going to be one of the R’s. Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and
Robotics. Robotics is about understanding sequences; about computational thinking; about how stuff works in the real world. And kids are able
to see the results of their thinking in it,” she said.
Howard, chair of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing’s School of Interactive Computing and founder of Zybortics, is in
the country to promote her creations and is in the process of licensing technology derived from her research. Her firm released their first suite
of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educational products to engage children, particularly those with disabilities.
She said this concept (introducing robots) is an important step in a child’s developmental process. “Robots can interject on emotional aspect
where it can play with children together.”
She said they noticed that several kids with cerebral palsy and children with autism reacted positively and improved their condition while
playing with interactive robots and text-based games.
She said about 150 million children are diagnosed with disabilities worldwide as she cited the potential of introducing robotics as part of their
physiotherapy programs “where every therapy sessions is like a game to them”.
Dr. Howard, one-time senior robotics researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, revealed that cost-wise, the assisted-technology gadgets
that can make day-to-day activities easier for PWDs are at the least $100 apiece, and these can be replicated in the Philippines.
“Designing technology for individuals is (to design) for everyone,” she notes.
Too, Dr. Howard expressed her willingness to collaborate with local schools and institutions for tech applications that would work for Filipinos
at the grassroots level.
Citing Dr. Howard’s landmark achievements, SM Cares officials took note that “applications of her work have included the development of
assistive robots at home, therapy gaming apps, and remote exploration of extreme environments.
“Disability is not a limitation— it is about being able to overcome our limitations and focusing all our energies into building strengths, Only
them will we be able to achieve our goals and realize our full potentials.”