Researchers develop a social robot to aid ‘lazy eye’ treatment

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

An interdisciplinary research team at the University of Waterloo is  working to improve treatment adherence for a children’s eye condition with the help of a social robot.  

Dr. Kerstin Dautenhahn, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Ali Yamini (MASc ‘22, electrical and computer engineering) joined colleagues with backgrounds in optometry and psychology to develop this novel treatment for ‘lazy eye’.   

 Amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’ is typically diagnosed in childhood and involves one eye not seeing as well as the other. If the problem isn’t corrected early enough, permanent vision loss can result, and poor vision in one eye can limit learning, well-being and future career options. 

Amblyopia treatment involves patching the stronger eye for two to six hours a day, which can be challenging. When children and parents don’t sufficiently understand the condition or its treatment, it’s easy to give up, because many amblyopic children don’t struggle in obvious ways.  

The research team is developing a social robot they hope will overcome these hurdles. The robot will interact with family members age-appropriately. For example, a young child could put a patch on the robot’s eye and feel kinship with it, while the robot could show parents through a screen what each of their child’s eyes sees and provide information about amblyopia and its treatment.  

“Compared with using a tablet or computer, there is a lot of research that shows children find working with social robots more enjoyable; they want to interact with them,” said Dautenhahn. “A robot can motivate and encourage children, so I’m very optimistic that this work will lead to behavioural change.” 

Go to A robot friend for vision treatment for the full story.