KOULE is a new product created for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD’s) by Dr. Tamie Salter. It is essentially a “smart” ball that promotes physical health, cognitive potential and emotional well-being. What can this robot-ball do? It uses games, motion, sounds, lights and a patented touch-sensing technology to stimulate the curiosity of the children interacting with it. It can function autonomously, or you can control it with a smartphone. Sounds like a great therapy and play tool, right? I wanted to know more, so I contacted Dr. Salter to find out more about it.
Q: What inspired you to create KOULE?
Tamie Salter: I was a single parent and was really struggling to cope with a typically developing child by myself. I heard about a Ph.D in robotics being offered (I already had a degree in Computer Science) to develop devices for children with autism. I thought to myself: If I am finding it hard, I cannot imagine how hard parents of children with autism find it. I decided to try to make a difference in the world – do something to help others, to do the Ph.D. Once I was carrying out the research I realized I had a great device not just for children with autism but for all children. But the device wasn’t ever going anywhere. After a trial, the device got put back on our robotic labs shelves and stayed there. So I decided to commercialize the best product I had worked with: KOULE.
Q: What are the reactions to KOULE that you are seeing from children with autism? Do you see great variation?
TS: One of things with children with autism is the great diversity there is among the group. We see everything from laughter, to intense fascination, to physical play, to social interaction with other people, to behaviors that we only see with autistic children (not seen with typically developing children) such as bringing KOULE up and down to the child’s own lips. Universally, we have seen a desire for all children to play with KOULE.
TS: Parents of typically developing children tend to like the fact that KOULE gets children moving around and laughing. I have had a mother of an 8-year-old non-verbal autistic child say it was one of (if not the first) times she had been able to actually play with her child. Moments like this is why I do this work. They played by rolling KOULE to each other. Therapists tend to like the adaptability and control KOULE provides them. Therapists see KOULE as an extra tool that they use.
Q: Have you seen any positive changes in children with autism who have been using KOULE for some time? What are those changes?
TS: Long-term change in any child is something that it is very difficult to attribute to any one device, or teaching, or situation. Also, it is difficult to get enough access or time with one particular child to attempt to measure change. We are hoping that bringing KOULE to market and by getting it into homes and centers that we will get a larger set of data on feedback of how effective KOULE is and the change it brings about. This would enable to further analyze the effectiveness of different games etc.
Q: Does KOULE come with any instructions for parents and caregivers, or is it easily understood out-of-the-box?
TS: KOULE will be an out of the box ready to go, simple to use. This is one factor I take very seriously. I have worked with lots of moms, parents and caregivers and realize that this is very important to them.
Q: You mention on your website that one day KOULE might be used to diagnose autism by analyzing play behaviors. Do you have any data to support this, or is it simply a pattern you are noticing?
TS: The website was updated recently to explain this a little further. This is what the website says:
Following research work conducted by Dr. Tamie Salter in her Ph.D. thesis (Sensor-Based Recognition of Interaction Patterns Between Children and Mobile Robots), we at Que believe strongly in the possibility of the use of sensor play patterns as an extra tool for doctors when diagnosing autism. We believe there is the possibility for KOULE to record and analyze sensor data on-board itself, or for data to be stored and analyzed off line. This analysis can show different play patterns. Data from KOULE is analyzed to give results as to the types of play patterns that occurred.
This information can be used by medical experts along side their typical diagnosis methods. We believe it will give the medical expert another tool, to help apply objective numbers/data to the diagnosis procedure.
A real world example of a play pattern is: when comparing trials of KOULE with both typically developing children against those of children with autism, we have seen a marked difference in their play behavior. For instance, we have seen children with autism lift KOULE up in a vertical motion to their lips and then back down to the floor (multiple times in a row). This action has been made when KOULE has simply been rolling about and the game has not requested that KOULE be lifted. We have never seen this behavior in typically developing children. Lifting from the floor up to your mouth creates a unique sensor pattern (accelerometers measure a vertical lift). When we see typically developing children lift KOULE (outside of the game requesting it), it is to either; throw KOULE, stroke KOULE like a pet, or move KOULE to a different location. These actions do not create the same sensor patterns as the lifting to the mouth.
We understand that there needs to be a large amount of trials, collaboration with medical institutes and work for this to be successful, but you can be sure we are working on it.
Q: When will KOULE be made available for purchase?
TS: We hope to be on Kickstarter.com within one to two weeks. People will be able to pre-buy KOULE from this website. We really need people to help us spread the word about KOULE, share on Facebook, etc. so that people hear about KOULE on Kickstarter and then we can bring KOULE to market and get it to the children that need it.