A/Prof Adam Scheinberg is an Honorary Fellow Manager in Developmental Disability and Rehabilitation Research

Tell us about your work

Our team of researchers from MCRI, Swinburne University, The University of Melbourne, Data61 and The Royal Children's Hospital have been designing and developing a socially assistive robot, the NAO, for paediatric rehabilitation. We were initially approached in 2014 by The Brainery, who were looking for researchers interested in using the NAO. NAO is a humanoid robot, which weighs 5.4 kg and can fall over and get up by itself. It has over 50 sensors with facial recognition using two HD cameras and four directional microphones. The latest version is expected to also have depth perception.

What is the latest exciting update on your project?

We have adapted the NAO to deliver a series of post-surgery rehabilitation exercises as prescribed by the child's physiotherapist. This has involved the clinicians working with data programmers and robotics experts to incorporate different movements into the NAO, which it can then demonstrate to the child. For example, the NAO can show and encourage the child to complete leg raises, sit to stand or 'bridges' – important exercises to help recovery after surgery to the lower limbs.

We have also developed an iPad interface to allow our therapists to easily tailor the exercise program for each child's specific needs. Feedback from children interacting with NAO has been very positive and this has encouraged us to continue to develop its capabilities.

What are you hoping to achieve through the work that you're doing/what is your ideal goal?

The world of robotics is advancing rapidly. We aim to be at the forefront of research using humanoid robots to improve rehabilitation outcomes in children and adolescents. Ultimately, a humanoid robot such as the NAO will have a personalised rehabilitation program for each patient, allowing therapists to monitor the child's progress, remotely adapt exercises, and provide real time feedback to the child. The NAO will never take over the role of the therapist, but may be increasingly used as a therapy assistant to achieve the best outcomes for each child.

How many people are potentially impacted by your research?

As the technology improves, this work has the potential to affect a huge number of children and adults in a wide range of areas. We are collaborating with researchers in adult stroke units to see if the NAO can help with earlier mobilisation and greater environmental stimulation. The NAO is also being used in schools to assist with education and interpersonal communication skills, and as a distraction device for children undergoing painful procedures.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?

It was a privilege to be involved in the development of the Victorian Paediatric Rehabilitation Service (VPRS), which operates across eight sites throughout Victoria. The service provides interdisciplinary rehabilitation programs to thousands of children and adolescents each year. The VPRS regional site development program was recognised in 2016 with the RACP Medal for Clinical Service in Rural and Remote Areas.  

What do you love about working at MCRI? 

The ability to connect with such a diverse, dedicated and inspirational group of people! Aside from our NAO robot research project, I am working with researchers in the areas of chronic fatigue syndrome, cerebral palsy, brain injury and animal assisted therapy. Despite being very different projects, there are many areas of overlap for research questions and innovative therapy approaches.

What makes you passionate about child health?

The firm belief that improving child health leads to a brighter future for us all, and the enjoyment that comes from working with children and their families.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I have a doppelganger who lives in Florida – he has the same name, same number of kids, same age, also bald with a three-day beard we plan to meet when I am next in the USA!