Toddlers become friends with robot

November 14th, 2007 - 8:35 am ICT by admin  
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) introduced a state-of-the-art social robot into a classroom of the toddlers for five months to study human-robot interactions.

They found that not only did the children accept the robot, but they also hugged them and helped them as though they were humans.

“The results imply that current robot technology is surprisingly close to achieving autonomous bonding and socialization with human toddlers,” National Geographic quoted Fumihide Tanaka, a researcher at the UCSD, as saying.

According to experts, developing robots that can interact socially with people has been difficult to achieve partly because such interactions are hard to study.

“To my knowledge, this is the first long-term study of this sort. It is groundbreaking … and helps to forward human-robot interaction studies significantly,” said Ronald Arkin, a roboticist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not involved with the study.

The toddler-size humanoid robot used in the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was originally developed by Sony.

Tanaka, who also works for Sony, revealed that children of toddler age were chosen for the study because they do not have any preconceived notions of robots.

The researchers sent instructions about every two minutes to the robot to do things like giggle, dance, sit down, or walk in a certain direction.

According to them, the quality of children’s interaction with the robot improved steadily over 27 sessions, but it deteriorated quickly over the next 15 sessions when the robot was reprogrammed to behave in a more limited, predictable manner.

“Initially the children treated the robot very differently than the way they treated each other. But by the end they treated the robot as a peer rather than a toy,” Tanaka said.

He also revealed that the toddlers would touch the robot on its face in the beginning, but later they started to touch only on its hands and arms, like they would do with other humans. The children would also wish the robot “night-night” as it laid down on the floor due to low battery.

The researchers are now developing autonomous robots for the toddler classroom.

“It could have great potential in educational settings assisting teachers and enriching the classroom environment,” Tanaka said. (ANI)

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