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Kaspar the friendly robot helps autistic kids

Maria Cheng of AP reports: Eden Sawczenko used to recoil when other little girls held her hand and turned stiff when they hugged her. This year, the 4-year-old autistic girl began playing with a robot that teaches about emotions and physical contact — and now she hugs everyone.

Alastair Grant / AP

Eden Sawczenko reacts to 'Kaspar' the robot who is showing the 'Happy' stance of two open arms as she takes part in research project in Hatfield, England on Feb. 28. Eden attends a nursery for autistic children in Stevenage, north of London, where researchers bring in a human-looking, child-sized robot once a week for a supervised session.

"She's a lot more affectionate with her friends now and will even initiate the embrace," said Claire Sawczenko, Eden's mother.

The girl attends a pre-school for autistic children in Stevenage, north of London, where researchers bring in a human-looking, child-sized robot once a week for a supervised session. The children, whose autism ranges from mild to severe, play with the robot for up to 10 minutes alongside a scientist who controls the robot with a remote control.

Alastair Grant / AP

A girl named Megan (no last name given) reacts to 'Kaspar' the robot, seen in the background. She is enacting the two handed sign for hiding that copies the robot, in Hatfield, England on Feb. 28.

The robot, named Kaspar, is programmed to do things like smile, frown, laugh, blink and wave his arms. He has shaggy black hair, a baseball cap, a few wires protruding from his neck, and striped red socks. He was built by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire at a cost of about $2,100.

Read the full story and visit Kaspar's website.