[Photo: University of Denver]

Scientists believe a friendly robot, about the size of a stuffed animal, may help kids express their emotions. Even with their parents, many children with autism have a tough time connecting emotionally.  Researchers at the University of Denver are seeing if this robot can serve as a stepping stone to more meaningful human interaction. It's already led some kids with autism to be more affectionate. Engineering professor Mohammed Mahoor, who's leading the research, told host Ryan Warner about one child in particular, who doesn't usually give hugs.

"He hugged the robot. He also hugged my graduate students. The family and the mom said 'Wow, my son is your friend now. He usually doesn't do this with strangers.'"

Mahoor says the end goal is to have a robot that's commercially available to provide therapy at home. He says a growing number of researchers are working to design social robots for therapeutic use, including one that could help senior citizens with depression. 

Click here for a video that shows the robot in action. To participate in the research, contact roboassist@du.edu.