CoCoCo: Co-Designing a Co-design toolkit for Co-bots to empower autistic adults

Autism impacts 5 million people in the EU. Research has shown social robots as enabling robot-assisted therapy or providing assistance in everyday activities. However, given the strong heterogeneity of the target group, it proves to be difficult to design generic, one-size-fits-all assistive applications. Various toolkits have emerged for self-building of robots, yet these still require considerable technical skill. More importantly, such toolkits lack guidance in a structured design process, to uncover and translate real needs into coherent product concepts that can actually be built. To fill this gap, we engaged in CoCoCo (Co3), an exploratory study to empower autistic adults to truly design their own (non-preprogrammed) collaborative robots. The Co3 toolkit of linkable building blocks guides designer and autistic participant through an iterative co-design process. The toolkit itself has been co-designed, evaluated and tested with autistic adults at a FabLab-inspired activity centre for autistic individuals. We discuss how the toolkit elements are padded with cognitive and communicative scaffolding to bridge imagination and communication-related gaps in the interaction between designer and autistic participant. We present Co3, a first step in open-source, scalable, democratized design of social assistive robots, with the aim to increase inclusiveness and democratization.