Monday, July 12, 2010

Robot Technology

In Los Angeles a young boy with autism is learning to mimic the moves of a robot. Around the world computer scientists are developing robots that can engage people, teaching simple skills, household tasks, vocabulary words and imitation. Researchers are also looking at robotics as instructors for foreign language or for developmental problems such as autism.

South Korea is using hundreds of robots as teacher aides in the classroom. According to Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, “with the right kind of technology at a critical period in a child’s development, they (robots) could supplement learning in the classroom.”

In one study children with autism spent thirty minutes with a robot when programmed to be socially engaging and another thirty minutes when the robot was programmed to behave randomly. When programmed to be socially engaging the children spent more time directly interacting with the robot. What does this tell us? When the robot acted more human the children responded better to the robot.

Timing the robot’s responses was also very important. If the robot responded too fast or too slow to the child this disrupted the interaction between them so the physical rhythm of the robot is crucial. When the robot was able to bob or shake in rhythm with an autistic child, the child would be less fearful to engage with the robot. “Simple mimicry seems to build a kind of trust, and increase sociability”, said Anjana Bhat, an assistant professor in the department of education.

For robots to be truly effective guides with children, robots will have to learn from students. According to Andrea Thomaz, assistant professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, if ”scientists could equip a machine to understand the nonverbal cues that signal “I’m confused” or “I have a question” — giving it some ability to monitor how its lesson is being received” then the robot could accumulate knowledge through experience.

Researchers would like to find ways that “robots can learn to learn, on their own and without instruction.” Then can a robot be programmed to be “responsive to the needs of a class, even an individual child.”

Not sure if a robot could replace a teacher, what do you think?
To learn more about the robots mentioned in this posting please check out the links below.
To read this article please click on one of the links below:

Images from Bandit Robot, CosmoBot Robot and Nao Robot sites

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