“Robovie,” a 1.2-meter ambulant talking robot is the newest addition to the student population at the Higashihikari Elementary School in Kyoto. The robot, developed by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, joined a science class at the school on Feb. 5 as a part of a 14-month experiment.
The data that will be gathered from the experiment will be used to improve the robot’s ability to interact in the most natural manner with multiple people. The experiment with Robovie is the first experiment using a robot at a school to last for over a year. The research studying the co-existence of humans and robots is being carried out at a school primarily because the environment allows for the gathering of data in a large quantity from the robot’s interaction with the children. The robot is designed to recognize most of the people in its environment, as it has been given images and digital voiceprints of 119 fifth graders and teachers.
The experiment is well on its way, and the first day of class was a routine one for Robovie. The robot greeted students, and was even asked by a teacher to answer a question, specifically what a “wound up copper wire” was. Robovie answered, “A copper coil. It’s part of the motors that move my body.” For the duration of the class, Robovie waited at the back of the room, gathering data from the faces of the students and recording their movements. After class it took on a friendly role and shook the hands of the sixth graders and answered some of their questions. The makers of Robovie say that its conversation level is equivalent to a five-year-old human, although its memory has been programmed and filled with the contents of an entire fifth-grade science textbook.