Robotic tool guides hand to help kids write

A robotic arm helps kids learn the correct movements for handwriting by pushing and pulling the pen in the direction required to make the right moves. (Credit: iStockphoto)

A robotic arm is designed to help children practice and improve hand coordination.

The device uses haptic technology—which means it applies forces, vibrations, or motions to the user—to guide a child’s hand as they play computer games designed to help writing.


The games the children play require them to practice hand and wrist movements commonly made during handwriting and other manual tasks. As the child plays the games, the robot’s arm helps them learn the correct movements by pushing and pulling the pen in the direction required to make the right moves.

The research has been led by Professor Mark Mon-Williams and Liam Hill at the University of Leeds, in partnership with the Bradford Institute for Health Research and colleagues at the University of Indiana.

“In trying to support a child with handwriting and coordination difficulties one of the major challenges teachers and occupational therapists come up against time and again is the limited time they have to work one-to-one with each child,” Hill says. “In this respect, haptic robotic technologies have huge potential efficiency benefits.

“They provide a means by which children can receive supported practice, at a level which adjusts to their growing abilities, without the need for one-to-one interaction with a therapist.

“Banks of these systems could be used simultaneously by multiple children in a clinic or in the classroom setting, under the supervision of a single overseeing professional.”

Researchers carried out the first United Kingdom pilot of the device with a small number of five- to seven-year-old children with a wide range of manual abilities.

All the children found the tasks highly enjoyable and were able to perform them to an acceptable level, the test showed. Differences in performance between children previously identified by their classroom teachers as having handwriting difficulties were also noticeable.

A larger study within schools in Bradford will investigate whether earlier research findings from the US can be replicated in younger schoolchildren in the UK.

The researchers presented their findings at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive and Developmental Psychological Sections Joint Conference.

Source: University of Leeds