Robot could help Swindon boy say mummy and daddy for the first time
5:30am Tuesday 5th August 2014 in By Marion Sauvebois
AT five years old, Logan Franco-Franklin has never uttered a single word, held his baby brother in his arms, or joined in a game of football in the playground.
But his life could be transformed thanks to a new intelligent robot designed to help children with autism interact with the world and bridge the gap between their own universe and those around them.
Logan’s parents, Jess and Malcolm, were first alerted to the fact their son may not be developing as quickly as expected when a nurse raised concerns about his inability to sit up at seven months.
Three years later, after countless appointments and assessments, the little boy was diagnosed with a very rare gene deficiency, a condition that only affects 12 people in the world – including his 10-month-old brother Leo.
Side-effects of the condition include severe autism, the inability to speak, learning difficulties, excessive flapping disorder and weakened muscles.
After years struggling to give Logan as many opportunities as possible, Malcolm and Jess are now hoping to buy the £5,900 robot which could unlock Logan’s ability to speak and say the words they have been waiting to hear for years – ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’.
“The biggest challenge facing us is communication,” said Malcolm, of Fresh-brook. “Logan is completely non-verbal and cannot sign, causing frustration and severe meltdowns which take their toll on all involved.
“This robot was designed and developed by Aldebaran Robotics using NASA technologies and is also being developed as a tool to bridge the gap between an autistic child's world and our own.
“Our hope is it could help to break down the communication barrier that divides us and also help cool him down during a meltdown and to regain control.”
The 41-year-old added: “It would mean so much to Jess and I as parents to one day hear Logan say mummy and daddy – that’s the dream.”
The robot would allow Logan to learn to respond to certain instructions, try to repeat words, mimic movements, have fun and play games and generally to better understand the world around him.
So far the family have raised nearly £2,000 at various events and received a £2,100 donation from the James Dyson Foundation. Despite a VAT exemption, which should bring down the robot’s price to £4,900, they are still £800 short of their target.
Malcolm will attempt to secure the remaining sum at a 24-hour Snookerthon at Jesters Snooker Hall in Greenbridge between 9pm on Friday, August 29 and 9pm on Saturday 30 alongside friends and fellow fundraisers.
Jess, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child – a girl – who will not develop the condition as only boys are affected – said: “The robot could deliver a precise message to Logan.
“When we speak we might add an intonation or use different tones that confuse children with autism without realising it. It can throw the child but that wouldn’t happen with a robot.
“It would also be interactive so he could dance and sing with the robot. You could tailor-make the robot to his needs. Some children who have tried have been able to say a few words.”
The 31-year-old Dyson employee added: “His only way to communicate is cry and show off and that can be really tiring sometimes and it can last all day. It would change his life.”