Nao: A Promising Tool for Pediatric Hospitals


  • Michela Bogliolo University of Genoa
  • Filippo Bogliolo Scuola di Robotica
  • Fiorella Operto Scuola di Robotica
  • Emanuele Micheli Scuola di Robotica


Over the past decade, several studies have been conducted in the area of robotics to support the compensation of deficits in social interaction and communication [1]. Since individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are more responsive to feedback from the interaction with technology than with humans, studies have shown that using robots to deliver cognitive-behavioral treatment can be more effective and faster than traditional methods [2].

The collaboration with the Pediatric Hospital Gaslini of Genoa has allowed the implementation of the project that aims to evaluate the use of the robot Nao to improve the quality of hospitalization of children in the Department of Pediatric Neurology and Muscle Diseases, but also its effectiveness for the development and recovery of cognitive skills.

The first part of the experiment was for recreational purposes, structured in weekly sessions lasting about one hour, organized in small groups (8/10 children for a total of 70 children) with different pathologies concerning neurological and muscular diseases, through the mediation and direction of trained personnel.

Through the Wizard of Oz (WoZ) technique, Nao is teleoperated by the experimenter out of the users’ sight, making them believe the robot acts autonomously. The operator used Nao to assign children tasks such as the imitation of body patterns, the recognition and storage of color sequences and the search in the game room for special cards (Nao Mark) depicting animals to show to Nao for confirmation.

The proposed activities are designed to foster skills and the development of knowledge structure in the young participants. For instance, imitation, which plays a decisive role in transferring knowledge to the child from an external source; the eye contact, a vital part of social development; the turn-taking, since children with autism find it extremely difficult to share and have normal conversations taking turns with other individuals.

Following the initial observations, a qualitative evaluation form was created for assigning scores with a scale of 6 points to several parameters including interaction with Nao and psychomotor involvement; the form was filled out at the beginning (t1) and mid-session (t2) to obtain feedback on the impact that Nao had on children.

Looking at the frequency distribution and the mean of each single evaluation parameter, it is possible to see that in t2 we had a slight increase of the performance for every criterion. The clinicians found a high level of interaction among the participants, all of whom were active and participated in all activities, both cognitive and motor activities.

To conclude, using NAO with the Wizard of Oz technique shows promise in facilitating physical and verbal interaction, communication, participation, and movement in hospitalized children, indicating potential for broader applications in pediatric therapy.


[1] Ali, S. et al. (2020) ‘Comparing the effectiveness of different reinforcement stimuli in a robotic therapy for children with ASD’, IEEE Access, 8, pp. 13128–13137. doi:10.1109/access.2020.2965204.  

[2] David, D., Matu, S.-A. and David, O.A. (2014) ‘Robot-based psychotherapy: Concepts Development, state of the art, and New Directions’, International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 7(2), pp. 192–210. doi:10.1521/ijct.2014.7.2.192.