Robovie is a 1.2-meter-tall half-humanoid robot built by ATR in Japan (not to be confused with the Robovie-X humanoid hobby robot, which is unrelated as far as I can tell). It’s just enrolled as a fifth-grade “student” at Higashihikari elementary school in Kyoto for the next 14 months.
While earlier Robovie models have been remote-controlled, it appears that in this experiment, it will be functioning autonomously. Robovie features speech recognition and natural language processing software, giving it conversational skills comparable to a 5-year-old. On its first day of class, when asked by a teacher what a wound-up copper wire is, Robovie responded, “A copper coil. It’s part of the motors that move my body.”
Robovie also has sophisticated vision, and has already been programmed with the faces and voice patterns of 119 students and teachers in its new school, as well as most of the facts from a fifth-grade science textbook. This is the first experiment to place a robot in a school for more than a year.
As robots become more capable, they will need to move out of the carefully controlled environments of labs and fighting rings, and into the chaotic, unstructured environments of the real world, surrounded by such challenging obstacles as pets and children. Experiments like this one will help us understand better what robot designs and algorithms really work, and which ones need improvement. Robots today are just barely advanced enough to function in an environment like this, so look for more experiments of this type, as well as rapid advancement of robot sophistication, in the near future.
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