In a bid to improve learning in classrooms two very special robots, ASK NAO and Pepper, have been introduced to the classrooms of pre-schools to aid teachers teach young children. The two robots will be on a six-month trial to evaluate their effectiveness in helping children learn. If successful, the Singapore Government plans to provide the robots to other pre-schools.
Robots in the Classroom
In collaboration with the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and Nanyang Technological University – two preschools, My First Skool Jurong Point and My World @ Bukit Panjang, will have two very unique friends joining the kids in their educational journey – Pepper and NAO. It is hoped that it will help educators, “explore the use of social-humanoid robots in early childhood through interactive storytelling and collaborative play”, said by the Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, as part of the Government’s push for its Smart Nation plan to integrate technology and connectivity into everyday life in Singapore.
Be my Friend
NAO (he) and Pepper (she), developed by RobotLAB and SoftBank Robotics respectively, has already been tried and tested in other countries with positive results. Initially designed to help children with autism (who are afraid of human interaction), it is hoped that the extremely life-like Pepper and NAO may also provide other shy children a fun companion and learning partner… or at least, to help them feel more at ease because they’re having fun and thus open up and be more responsive to teachers in otherwise tense classroom environments.
Using advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, Pepper and NAO recognize human facial expressions and emotions, everyday objects around them (that scan and interact with those objects!), learn from their interactions with people, and listen and talk with displays of emotion in an almost human-like manner – sans meanness. Pepper even shares hugs when needed!
At the moment the robots still need to be pre-programmed with appropriate responses depending on the situation. Nanyang Technological University’s Robotics Research Centre and SoftBank, Pepper’s creator, will work together to make the lesson plans.
Pepper and NAO can also provide children with a learning partner that’s friendly and patient with which they can practice their skills with at their own pace – through repeated reinforcement. Already teachers are finding it easier to get their kids to participate in class more and feel at ease around their new robotic friends. Also, robots aren’t subject to bias in the classroom, witting or unwittingly, which might hurt the feelings of the ignored persons.