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Original research
Can social robots help children in healthcare contexts? A scoping review
  1. Julia Dawe1,
  2. Craig Sutherland2,
  3. Alex Barco3,
  4. Elizabeth Broadbent1
  1. 1 Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. 2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  3. 3 Department of Communication Science, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elizabeth Broadbent; e.broadbent{at}


Objective To review research on social robots to help children in healthcare contexts in order to describe the current state of the literature and explore future directions for research and practice.

Design Scoping review.

Data sources Engineering Village, IEEE Xplore, Medline, PsycINFO and Scopus databases were searched up until 10 July 2017. Only publications written in English were considered. Identified publications were initially screened by title and abstract, and the full texts of remaining publications were then subsequently screened.

Eligibility criteria Publications were included if they were journal articles, conference proceedings or conference proceedings published as monographs that described the conceptualisation, development, testing or evaluation of social robots for use with children with any mental or physical health condition or disability. Publications on autism exclusively, robots for use with children without identified health conditions, physically assistive or mechanical robots, non-physical hardware robots and surgical robots were excluded.

Results Seventy-three publications were included in the review, of which 50 included user studies with a range of samples. Most were feasibility studies with small sample sizes, suggesting that the robots were generally accepted. At least 26 different robots were used, with many of these still in development. The most commonly used robot was NAO. The evidence quality was low, with only one randomised controlled trial and a limited number of experimental designs.

Conclusions Social robots hold significant promise and potential to help children in healthcare contexts, but higher quality research is required with experimental designs and larger sample sizes.

  • psychology
  • technology
  • multidisciplinary team-care

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Contributors JD made substantial contributions to the acquisition and analysis of data and drafting the work. CS and EB made substantial contributions to the conception of the review, acquisition of funding and revision of the work. AB contributed to the acquisition and analysis of data and revision of the work. All authors approved the final manuscript and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding This review was funded by the CARES Seed Grant, University of Auckland.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.