But, Dunn warned that, in a world where children with autism tend to retreat into a world of objects, robots may not be the best solution.
"Being engaged while playing with a robot and gaining skills from using it are two different things, and research is needed to test the effectiveness of this and any new intervention," said Dunn.
Mataric and colleagues have already expanded Bandit's assistance beyond children with autism. Researchers said they plan to test Bandit out in other populations, including Alzheimer's patients, stroke survivors and in elderly people living alone.
"We are developing new capabilities for Bandit, such as more sophisticated imitation games, the abilities to positively influence people's behaviors including encouraging them to exercise and socialize (to mitigate isolation and depression), to maintain a healthy diet and to adhere to taking medications," Mataric said. "We are interested in putting Bandit in the playground to have it interact with many children and serve as a catalyst for bringing children with autism spectrum disorders and typically developing children together in a natural playful and educational setting."