Children who have been affected by crimes in Red Deer, Alberta have a new friend to help them through the courtroom and investigative process. He's two feet tall, he can sing "Let It Go" and "Gangnam Style," and the RCMP has named him Ard-E. He also happens to be a robot.
Ard-E was introduced to the Red Deer Victim Services Unit and instantly became a hit with children. Ard-E is designed specifically to appeal to kids and help them remain calm through the stressful process of dealing with police. Ard-E was named by six-year-old Laney Read, whose name was chosen out of over 200 entries.
This little robot is programmed to talk, sing, dance, and generally just be a friend to kids when they need one. Small things like moving his head and blinking are added to give the impression of real interaction.
"Ard-E is really good at being able to create a rapport with kids right away," said Derek Turner, acting corporal of Red Deer's Community Policing/ Victim Services Unit, to Narcity. "It seems to be way better than what any of us can do right away. He has a few dance routines he goes through and they seem to enjoy that."
Dr. Tanya Beran, a child psychologist and professor at the University of Calgary, is responsible for how well Ard-E works. She bought the robots from a French company and reprogrammed them herself with cognitive-behavioural strategies specifically aimed at children.
"When the robot is teaching children in a playful way where it doesn't look like they're trying to teach them anything, they really connect with that and the information sinks in," Dr. Beran told Canadian law enforcement magazine, The Gazette.
This is the kind of futuristic technology that's going to make things a lot easier for kids, especially when it comes to stressful situations and anxiety. Ard-E is programmed to let kids know that it's okay to ask for a question to be repeated or to even just request a glass of water.
Beyond law enforcement, the Ard-E robot has applications in the medical field as well. Four of the robots have found a home at the Alberta Children's Hospital, where they help children deal with medical procedures. Jackie Pearson, a children's life specialist at the hospital, told The Gazette that the robots have made a particularly positive impression with kids on the autism spectrum.
"By introducing play, the robot can help patients feel calm and help us communicate in a more playful and reassuring way," Pearson said.
Turner said to Narcity, "We’re open to using him however we think is appropriate. Like any other tool we have, we will use it to the best ability we can."
Could these robots be used with adults in the same way they are used with children in the future? There's no way of knowing yet, but Ard-E is a step in the right direction for helping kids dealing with difficult situations.
"[Ard-E is] still pretty new," Turner told Narcity. "We’ve had him for a little while and we’ve used him in a few different cases. Once we have some history on him and how he works, I’m sure it’s going to expand to other police departments all over the country."