Many parents worry about their children spending too much time playing with tablets, video consoles and other high-tech toys. But what if there was a tech device designed to help exceptional children live exceptional lives? That’s the goal of Leka, an interactive and multi-sensory smart toy offering children with special needs the ability to play fun and educational games that motivate social interactions; increase motor, cognitive and emotional skills; and stimulate autonomy.
The product prototype was developed in 2015 in Paris, France and has since gone through extensive testing. “We didn’t get into robotics because we like the science. We got into robotics because we saw the potential to help children who need it the most,” said Ladislasde Toldi, who co-founded Leka with Marine Couteau. The designing pair was inspired to create a tool to benefit children with autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines autism spectrum disorder as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It affects one out of every 68 children. And because autism impacts individuals differently, deToldi said Leka was developed to be highly customizable and highly reliable.
Children with autism spectrum disorder may prefer to play independently versus with another child, so it serves as a robotic companion. However, it’s much more than that with features that motivate and help children to learn and play, such as: Mobility ─its spherical shape offers unique movement engagement (it also has a remote control function); Communication ─ Leka has audible and visual engagement; Emotions─ Leka’s facial expressions help with symbolization, communication and feelings; Interactivity ─ personalized sensors allow Leka to respond to a child’s interactions; and Sensory stimulation ─ the device has lights, sounds and vibrates. “Colors, sounds and vibrations can be specifically adjusted to each child in order to avoid overstimulation,” de Toldi said.
The Leka says that “observations have shown great results with children from ages 3 to 6. Although we believe in early childhood care, Leka can also fit the needs of exceptional grade-schooler and teens (from 6 to 18).” And while it is designed for children with special needs, it may also be suitable for any child between ages 3 to 6.
Support for Leka and its applications have stemmed from individuals and autism-associated organizations in both France and the United States. Financial backing also came through a successful crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo. For more information, visit http://leka.io and direct questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Leka is now taking pre-orders with a final product expected to ship later this year. Orders include a Leka (available in orange, blue, rose or green), a dock station, 5 easy-to-program RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, a USB Bluetooth Dongle for your computer and an educational guide. Organizations and/or institutions (not individuals) that would like a live demonstration can email email@example.com for consideration. If you want to be a part of the evolution of this game-changing smart toy, apply for Leka’s Alpha Development Program. It grants select professionals, parents and developers a chance to offer valuable product feedback.