Child's robot toy

Researchers in the School of Computing are helping to transform lives

Artificial intelligence is helping autistic children and healthcare informatics could save patients' lives

For an autistic child, social cues can be hard to understand. But these cues – the signals we send through body language and facial expressions – are an essential part of learning to socialise and interact with others. 

Honghai Liu, Professor of Human Machine Systems, is helping to provide a solution using artificial  intelligence. It’s proving to have a transformative effect on autistic children’s lives.

Learning about the world

Honghai and his colleagues use special robots with vision processing. These can identify cues from young children that are on the autistic spectrum. Psychologists and specialists in this area then help characterise these cues. This enables the robots to responsively develop that young child’s social skills.

The team trialled this at a specialist school for autistic children, helping 7-10 years old appreciate the world around them. Dr Nick Savage, Head of the School of Computing at Portsmouth, explains: 

‘We helped these children learn social cues and learn how to socialise using robotics. They’re developing their own social cues, and learning to better identify and pick up on cues from others. And because they were interacting with a robot, they thought it was pretty cool as well!’

After a four-and-a-half-year trial, this work is paying dividends. This technology-assisted intervention has helped many children appreciate their role and their interactions in society. 

We helped these children learn social cues and learn how to socialise using robotics

Dr Nick Savage, Head of the School of Computing

The robotic intervention can be rolled out more easily than working with a single, human practitioner. So each child can have more time spent on their needs. And more children can benefit. Which leaves practitioners with time to help children in other ways. 

Following this trial, the European Union funded project is now set to be rolled out across the continent. Helping many children better understand the world around them.

And that’s not the only way researchers in the School of Computing are helping to transform lives.

Improving health outcomes

Being taken ill and hospitalised is an experience that can bring a lot of uncertainty and worry. But what if the medical professionals caring for you could get help in prioritising care?

Professor Jim Briggs and colleagues are using healthcare informatics to make this vision a reality. Their work that led to the nationwide adoption of the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) enables medical staff to identify the most seriously ill patients. It’s an ability that can make the difference between life and death.

NEWS enables clinicians to convert the vital sign measurements (pulse, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) that are taken regularly into a single score. The higher the score, the more ill the patient is. This helps identify those who need intervention, including being seen by a more senior doctor or the possibility of a transfer to intensive care. This is particularly useful for early identification of patients who may have sepsis.

Jim says:

‘We have created a system that can help identify which patients are at higher risk of developing sepsis, so that doctors can treat their condition earlier, which could lead to saving their life.

‘Being able to say we’re helping save lives with this work is quite a significant result.’