AI Robots for Kids

[In January I had a chance to join Susan Wells and her TechTerra team at the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. Susan has traveled around the world sharing her enormous knowledge to robotics and STEM with teachers and educators. I provided the Birdbrain Technologies connection for the Hummingbird and Finch. The debate will continue as Artificial Intelligence (AI) grows. In this article Susan highlights a variety of tools that are available for children.]

Susan Wells, TechTerra Founder

AI (artificial intelligence) includes a broad range of robots and devices that have the ability to gain and apply knowledge and skills through machine learning. This year has seen a barrage of AI robots and learning tools incorporating AI. These robots and tools are intended to provide information, companionship, monitoring, tutoring and more. Amazon Echo and Google Home already provide hands-free voice activated information to homes. As these computers learn more about the humans they interact with, the devices are better able to meet their needs. Now this technology is available for children.

Many see this as a movement toward equity because information is always available and it can allow personalization. For example, in The Driver in the Driverless Car, How our Technology Choices will Create the Future, Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever’s positive outlook on these developments, tell us that “Emerging technologies…will, with teachers provid(ing) guidance and coaching, supercharge learning by making it truly a one-to-one experience at every stop of the learning journey.”

As a counterpoint to the optimistic view, a more cautious approach was expressed by former President Barack Obama. In Wired, President Obama said, “If properly harnessed, it (AI) can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity. But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.”

We know that potential downsides for children regarding AI exist. These include questions of privacy and concern that these toys could isolate children. There is a concern that AI robots could replace human companionship and leave children with machine companions rather than human friends.

What we know for sure is that this new market of AI robots and tools is expanding exponentially. It’s necessary for all of us to understand the tools, their capabilities, and their limitations. We need to decide if they could be a good fit for our kids. To make that decision, we want to know what is out in the market now. Becoming familiar with AI makes good sense for you and your child.

A few of the AI robots and tools available now in the market that we’ve had a chance to take a look at and to play with include:

CogniToys, the Wi-Fi-enabled, educational smart toy is a dinosaur that learns and grows with children. These are conversational dinos powered by IBM’s Watson and Elemental Path’s Friendgine technology. The technology allows the dinos to provide a child with a personalized play experience and the AI technology automatically grows with your child. This allows a child’s play experiences to become more personalized the more they play.

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Mattel Toy Company developed Aristotle, a device that combines AI, cameras, and voice recognition to help parents and kids and to serve as an artificially intelligent home assistant. It can talk, record video, place orders, and help humans become better communicators. Mattel describes Aristotle as a device aimed to be “a nanny, friend, and tutor, intended to both soothe a newborn and help a tween with their foreign language homework.” Privacy is, and has been, an important focus for companies. Mattel has worked to make sure that the way data is handled internally is both COPAA and HIPAA compliant. Because the device can be used to place orders, it is important for parents to talk with their kids about limits that parents may want to set.

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Kuri is a smart home robot from Bosch’s internal startup company, Mayfield Robotics. Kuri has a facial detection feature that allows the device to tailor its reactions and responses to faces and expressions it sees. That means it can smile back at people who smile at it, and watch your face with its eyes while waiting for your next instruction.

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Leka, is another new robotic companion but this robot is designed specifically for children with special needs. The goal behind Leka is to motivate these children and to help them learn, play, and progress with cognitive and motor skills.

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PARO is an advanced interactive robot developed by AIST, a Japanese industrial automation pioneer. PARO was designed to provide the benefits of animal therapy in hospital and extended care settings where live therapy animals might not be appropriate because of treatment or logistical difficulties.

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