ADHD robot coach works where apps and screens fail

Adults with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) will know that the condition presents challenges that impact many aspects of daily life: missed deadlines, debilitating task paralysis, forgotten appointments, poor time management and ‘to-do’ list overwhelm, just to name a few.

And, for many, advice such as ‘keep a diary’ or ‘make a list and work your way through it’ doesn’t work, which then results in a spiral of shame and negative self-talk because, once again, they’ve failed to manage these ‘normal’ everyday activities.

With this in mind, researchers from Monash University in Melbourne have developed Stu, a desktop AI-powered robot that is designed for – and is being tested on – ADHD adults that face daily struggles with executive function.

Stu is the flagship offering from Nexa Robotics, a new startup that came out of Monash’s Fastrack program for emerging innovation entrepreneurs. Founder Zaid Ahmed came up with the idea after seeing the daily struggles a friend with ADHD faced.

“I would help her manage her executive function, but I couldn’t always be there,” Ahmed said. “We did some research and realized that nine out of 10 people found benefit in robots assisting them with their ADHD.”

“With over 300 million people with ADHD globally, we have recognized a massive problem,” he added.

Ahmed is aware that using AI to assist with ‘life admin’ is not reinventing the wheel; in 2020, a study identified 109 ADHD-related smartphone apps, targeting everything from assessment to sensory and focus help. However, there’s little data on their effectiveness, and even criticisms aimed at some task management and organization apps that don’t understand the specific needs of ADHD users.

Stu is designed to simplify managing executive function issues, and because it’s a desktop gadget that responds to voice commands, it doesn’t require the user to open apps, remember to return to browser tabs to access AI assistants, and is hard to ‘forget’ about, bypassing the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ object-permanence issue that many people with ADHD have.

“Current solutions are made without proper involvement of people with ADHD and these solutions often don’t work well,” he said, adding that every step will involve consultation with the type of people that Stu is designed to help. “We are tackling it through a co-creation process while backing our solution through science and research.”

The engineering student joined with Monash peers Arnav Bhalla and William Cerdelli to develop Stu, which is now in its testing phase, with more than 600 people already signed up to try it out.

“Stu helps people with ADHD with executive function through task digestion, schedule management and emotional support,” Ahmed said. “It sits on your desk and you can talk to it as a medium of interaction, and it connects to your email, calendar and other apps to help you manage daily tasks.”

Source: Nexa Robotics

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