Dr. Ayanna Howard (center) is joined by (from L-R): SVP for Mall Operations and Director for the SM Cares Program on PWDs, Engr. Bien C. Mateo, National President Autism Society Philippines (ASP), Ms. Mona Magno-Veluz, Down Sydrome Association of the Philippines, Inc.(DSAPI), President Mr. Elmer Lapena, and Mrs. Agnes Lapena, and Philippine Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, Inc. (PFRD) President, Mr. Noli Agcaoili.

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.”


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Being Different Helped A NASA Roboticist Achieve Her Dream