a new Mechatronic TOY for early diagnosis of atypical development in infants

BioRobotics Institute Role: 

Project Lifetime
Nov 2010 to Jul 2013

Funding Institutions: 

Tuscany Region

Research Program: 
Regional Health Research Program 2009
Grant no.: 
Research nr. 89
SSSA Total Cost: 
Contribution to SSSA: 

Developmental Disorders (DD) in mental or motor domains involve a high percentage of children and accounts for a high number of permanent disabilities with huge costs for the person, the family and the society. The new Tuscan Regional Health Plan (2008-10) indicates its main aims among projects for early diagnosis and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders in infancy (sect The aim of this work is to build up a new tool suitable for “Prevention Programs” in infancy, apt to allow an early detection of DD in the first months of life. In addition, it aims
to contribute to an early intervention, facilitate the acquisition of developmental skills and minimize the long-term effects of specific developmental risk factors. The population investigated is: typically developing infants, infants at risk for DD due to severe prematurity or pre-perinatal brain insults, infants at risk for mental development due to genetic conditions (e.g. sibling of autistic children) or to environmental factors (low socioeconomic status, drug dependent parents), infants with rare diseases, diagnosed at birth, mainly genetic (e.g. Down or Rett yndrome).
We propose a new tool for developmental screening that can be used in a very flexible way for studying, measuring and analysing manipulation tasks (grasping forces), eyehand coordination and attention and for the assessment/stimulation of infant capabilities between 3 and 12 months of life. The key aspect of our approach is that the tool consists of common toys for infants, which embed technologies for measurement in a completely transparent and non-obtrusive way. This is a completely innovative approach, strongly based on scientific evidences and on original technological solutions, at international level. The proposed tool will be based on the concept of ‘gym’ for infants, as commercially available and usually adopted by families as an interactive toy. A purposive Mechatronic Gym (MG) will be developed by integrating sensors, cameras and visual and auditory stimulations in the usual gym structure and hanging toys, so that the infants’ actions on the gym devices can be monitored, measured, and stimulated. The MG will be composed by 4 modules, integrated in the gym structure: sensorized toys, bracelets, rewards and gaze tracking. For the study of upper limb motor development the hanging toys will be equipped with sensors able to detect: contacts, grasping forces, and strains during infant’s manipulation tasks. The second module is composed by bracelets with RFID tag for hand identification and physiological parameter monitoring. In order to stimulate the child to perform the manipulation tasks, a reward unit will be developed, including audiovisual feedback. Finally, a new smart system for stimulating and measuring infants’
attention and gaze movements will constitute the fourth unit composed by monitors that shows different images or faces and a gaze tracker to monitor and measure the child's attention and gaze movements. The new tool for early diagnosis requires a clinical testing in a large number of at-no-risk and at-risk infants; this is possible thanks to the collaboration with Stella Maris Foundation. A strong network of techno-scientific relationship is already established between the two Tuscan partners during the last few years and the interdisciplinary team is ready to re-start working together in order to become an international (in addition to regional) clinical-technological excellence reference group for DD prevention programs, combining scientific research, biomedical engineering, clinical testing, and industrial exploitation, through real transdisciplinary research. Market-oriented activities will be carried out in order to investigate the possibility of making the system a real commercial product, manufactured on a large scale and deployed in clinical centres, by paediatricians and also at home, sold to families as an interactive toy for infants.

What we do: 

We are the project coordinator and the responsible partner for the development of the mechatronic gym.


Fondazione Stella Maris, Italy

Media - pictures: 


  • G. Sgandurra, F. Cecchi, S.M. Serio, E. Boldrini, C. Laschi, P. Dario, G. Cioni, “Quantitative assessment of grasping forces in tipically developing and brain damaged infants”, Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, vol. 53, suppl. 3, 6/2011, pp. 15
  • G. Sgandurra, F. Cecchi, S.M. Serio, M. Del Maestro, C. Laschi, P. Dario, G. Cioni, “Longitudinal study of unimanual actions and grasping forces during infancy”, Infant Behavior and Development, Elsevier, Vol. 3 Issue 2/ 2012, pp205–214
  • Cecchi F., Sgandurra G., Serio S.M., Boldrini E., Laschi C., Cioni G. and Dario P., “Longitudinal study of unimanual action in infancy by a biomechatronic gym”, EACD, Rome (Italy), 2011
  • Sgandurra G., Cecchi F., Serio S.M., Boldrini E., Laschi C., Cioni G. and Dario P., “Quantitative assessment of grasping force in typically developing and brain damaged infants”, EACD, Rome (Italy), 2011
  • Serio S.M., Cecchi F., Boldrini E., Laschi C., Sgandurra G., Cioni G. and Dario P., “Instrumented toys for studying power and precision grasp forces in infants”, IEEE RAS / EMBS Intl. Conf on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics (BioRob), Boston (USA) 2011

Meet the team