AirTalk for April 12, 2013

Robot experiment coming to Los Angeles classrooms

Dragonbot

Dragonbot

This dragonbot named Chili encourages students to make healthy food choices. The students give Chili different foods, and Chili gives feedback after tasting the foods.

A dragon-like robot will soon grace the classrooms of one Los Angeles elementary school in hopes of helping first-graders adopt healthier eating habits.

"We all know the challenge to get kids to do the right thing. And if the robot is motivating, why not try it?" said Maja Mataric, Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at University of Southern California & Founding Director, of USC's Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems.

Matari and her team at USC have been designing the robot —dubbed "Chili" — over the past year. It’s all part of a series of experiments backed by a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will take place in Los Angeles and New York classrooms later this Spring.

Known as "socially assistive robots," these interactive devices like Chili have previously been used in the area of health care: to motivate and correct stroke victims as they perform rehabilitative therapy or to assist caregivers in caring for the sick or the elderly.

Matari said bringing the robots on as teacher's aides will only augment the classroom experience for students: "We are not by any means taking curriculum from schools ... The idea is to have the [robots] enhance what [the teachers] are doing already."

One way the process will work is that students give Chili different foods, and Chili gives feedback after tasting them. "There's a lot of physical contact [with the robot]—[the students] will also touch the food that we are bringing in," said Matari. 

The USC group will measure the robot's effectiveness through videos and parent-surveys, said Matari. The end goal is "to create robots that you can stick with and play with for years on end."

Do you think robots are an effective way to teach kids healthy eating habits? Do you worry that these interactive devices could replace teachers? 

Guest:

Maja Mataric, Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at University of Southern California & Founding Director, of USC's Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems


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