Ro­bot Teach­ers

Com­pan­ion ro­bots are mak­ing their way into homes and Class­rooms.

Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nidhi Sin­gal

Meet Miko

a toy-like ro­bot barely seven inches tall. Look past its ap­pear­ance and what you get is a well-read, sprightly com­pan­ion – with a screen as its face and LEDs as its hands – who is con­stantly watch­ing your back, mak­ing it ideal for chil­dren above five years. From wish­ing ‘good morn­ing’ to in­cul­cat­ing healthy eat­ing habits to im­part­ing gen­eral knowl­edge, Miko has got it all cov­ered.

Com­pan­ion ro­bots have been par­tic­u­larly use­ful for the el­derly and chil­dren with spe­cial needs. Now, tech­nol­ogy gi­ants and start-ups are de­vel­op­ing ro­bots that ap­peal to all. Ones that can serve as com­pan­ions and teach­ers for chil­dren are gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

These ro­bots have been de­signed to con­verse with kids, sa­ti­ate their cu­rios­ity, en­ter­tain them, read out sto­ries, keep an eye on them, teach them and do most things a par­ent would. Miko’s In­dian man­u­fac­turer, Emotix, claims that it has over a mil­lion top­ics (and count­ing) to talk about. Us­ing a dash­board, par­ents can con­trol top­ics that can be dis­cussed and those that are out of bounds.

Smart speak­ers of to­day can carry out most of these tasks; but the ‘cuteness’ fac­tor of these ro­bots and their

abil­ity to fol­low peo­ple around are win­ning the hearts of par­ents and kids alike. Some of these ro­bots with screens and a hu­man-like voice have cam­eras em­bed­ded in them, along with in­tel­li­gent hubs to con­nect and con­trol home ap­pli­ances. With an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence soft­ware/ap­pli­ca­tion at the core, these ro­bots un­der­stand, learn and evolve with us­age.

In­dia is yet to see the ar­rival of such ro­bots. The year-old Miko, priced at 19,000, while good, falls short in com­par­i­son with the ad­vanced ro­bots avail­able abroad.

Asus Zenbo, priced at $599, is an adorable look­ing smart com­pan­ion launched in 2016. It en­ter­tains kids with in­ter­ac­tive sto­ries and games, help­ing cul­ti­vate cre­ativ­ity and log­i­cal think­ing. The re­mote-con­trolled cam­era lets par­ents keep a close watch on the kids. Zenbo has been pro­grammed to cap­ture pic­tures of your child’s spe­cial mo­ments. In case of an emer­gency, Zenbo is smart enough to no­tify fam­ily mem­bers. Then there is Jibo, a stout oneeyed ro­bot, which is a re­cent ad­di­tion priced at $899. This ‘so­cial ro­bot for the home’ has a touch­screen face. It uses fa­cial recog­ni­tion to re­mem­ber ev­ery mem­ber of the fam­ily and helps them with their re­spec­tive needs.

There are a num­ber of ro­bot com­pan­ions that do not cost a for­tune, but can han­dle se­lect chores. For in­stance, the Luka owl-themed ro­bot, priced at $150, is adept at read­ing bed­time sto­ries to kids, in the age group of two to eight, and en­cour­ages them to read by them­selves. Pana­sonic is de­vel­op­ing a ball-shaped ro­bot, Co­cotto, which will be an ed­u­ca­tional com­pan­ion and babysit­ter ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing emo­tions through LEDs. It will en­cour­age kids to move, talk and con­nect.

Com­pan­ion ro­bots are mak­ing their way into class­rooms, too. They help by as­sist­ing teach­ers and mak­ing in­ter­ac­tions with chil­dren more in­ter­ac­tive – read out sto­ries to kids and ask fol­lowup ques­tions. iPal is one such hu­manoid ro­bot, 3.5 feet tall, em­ployed in kinder­garten schools in China. It com­pli­ments kids for the cor­rect answers and even dances with them. At a pri­mary school in Fin­land, Elias the ro­bot is the new lan­guage teacher. Elias un­der­stands and speaks 23 lan­guages, and is a pa­tient teacher.

While these ro­bots can­not, (and should not, ideally) make the role of par­ents and teach­ers dis­pens­able, it can add ex­cite­ment to a mun­dane class­room and make learn­ing more stim­u­lat­ing. While at a nas­cent stage cur­rently, P&S Mar­ket Re­search ex­pects the global per­sonal ro­bot mar­ket to grow at a CAGR of 37.8 per cent dur­ing 2016-2022. Com­pan­ion and as­sis­tant ro­bots are ex­pected to make sig­nif­i­cant strides dur­ing this time.

asus zenbo has a re­mote­con­trolled cam­era

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