AI News, Kids Love MIT's Latest Squishable Social Robot (Mostly)

Kids Love MIT's Latest Squishable Social Robot (Mostly)

MIT’s Personal Robotics Grouphas been one of the driving forces behind social robotics since…well, sincethey pretty much invented social robotics.

The latest, smartest, cutest, and squishiest social robot that MIT has been testing out is named Tega, and it’s already gotten to work, adorably teaching Spanish to preschoolers.

In a paper that was just presented atthe 30th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Goren Gordon, Samuel Spaulding, Jacqueline Kory Westlund, Jin Joo Lee, Luke Plummer, Marayna Martinez, Madhurima Dasa, and Cynthia Breazeal, from both MIT and Tel-Aviv University in Israel describe how they sent Tega out into the wild, allowing 34 preschoolers (ages 3-5) to interact with the robot over a period of two months:

It’s much more robust than MIT’s earlier social robots, and it’s being aggressively play-tested by any children that can get their hands on it, although Kory Westlund tells us that it’s not quite ready to be left alone without adult supervision.

During the study, Tega gave pre-recorded verbal instructions and hints along with general encouragement, and would adapt its gaze to provide social cues to help the user know where and how they should be interacting with the system.

Long term, the researchers are hoping that Tega can learn from each of the kids that it interacts with, and autonomously tailor its physical expressions to what makes them most comfortable in order to optimize their learning experience.

Kory Westlund sees this as a valuable way to augment the way students are already learning, as opposed to replace them: “The goal of a social assistive robot such as Tega is not to compete with tablet apps or human teachers, but to complement and supplement in areas where robots can do the most good.

Personalized Robot Storytelling Companion

Could a social robot collaboratively exchange stories with children as a peer and help improve their linguistic and storytelling skills?

In Spring 2017, Tega went to twelve preschool classrooms in the Greater Boston area forthree months, pioneering the field of long-term human-robot interaction.Using Q-learning, a policy was trained to tell stories optimized for each child’s engagement and linguistic skill progression.

The New Robot in School

“Over the past few years,” Breazeal says, “our research has focused on advancing the artificial intelligence, user experience design, and application of social robots in the real world where they help people achieve long-term goals and can build personalized and positive relationships.” Educational goals are of particular interest: “There is huge need to help children enter school ready to learn, and social robots can offer something truly unique as an intervention both in schools and homes.” Enter Tega, the product of extensive research on child-robot interaction and educational best practices.

Tega is equipped to tell stories to kids, then to conduct autonomous conversations about those stories, testing comprehension and vocabulary and making emotional or inferential prompts (“how did the frog feel?” or “what will happen next?”)—all while tailoring its hints and reactions to the child’s verbal and physical responses.

Findings so far have reinforced the idea that “we learn not just knowledge and skills from others, but also important attitudes about learning—such as to be open and curious, to persevere through challenge, and to see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow.” Robot Design, Assembly, and Development: Version 1: Jin Joo Lee SM ’11, PhD ’17, Luke Plummer ’14, Kristopher dos Santos ’10, SM ’12, Sigurður örn Aðalgeirsson, Cooper Perkins Inc., IFRobots Inc., Stacey Dyer, Fardad Faridi.

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