Children will learn from robots

We featured a previous post on one of the most emotionally literate robots in the world Nao, who was developed by Aldebaran Robotics and is currently being used by the ALIZ-E project scheduled to end this year. This cute robot has been tested at aged care facilities and proved helpful for such tasks as monitoring and reducing people’s anxiety levels by engaging with them emotionally.

Now, another European project is testing Nao in a slightly different role – that of a tutor. Needless to say, EMOTE, a three-year research project launched in 2012, also picked up Nao for his ability to empathise.

The project aims to develop and evaluate a new generation of artificial tutors with sufficient perceptive capability to engage in emotional interactions with students in a physical space. Nao’s tutoring skills have already been put to test in a number of schools in Portugal, the UK and Sweden. The robot uses his peculiar abilities to track and respond to students’ emotions, which allows him to adapt his teaching style to an ever-changing environment of a classroom.

However, for robots to be truly effective as tutors, they must adapt their behavior and teaching style not only within singular encounters, but also over longer sequences of encounters. This challenge is addressed by the EASEL project. Launched in December of 2013, EASEL will revolve around the study of human-robot symbiotic interaction, which among other things requires the robot to be able to influence and be influenced by humans (including on the emotional level), store the acquired information and consequently use it to extract new knowledge necessary for successful long-term interactions with students.

It is easy to envision how empathetic robots can revolutionise the tutoring process and maybe even do better than human tutors at some aspects such as tracking the engagement level and progress of each and every student simultaneously and over long periods of time. Making robots even more engaging by enabling them to express emotions is a different part of the story, and we will need to have a better understanding of how emotions work in ourselves before we can successfully teach them to robots. EFAA, for instance, is another European project that aims to enhance our social interactions with robots, including by means of equipping them with just such an ability to express emotions.

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