OMG - The New Kid In Class Is A . . . Robot!
On February 5th, 2013, the fifth grade students at Japan's Higashihikari Elementary School welcomed a new student. However, unlike other newcomers, he was not shy and seemed to instantly recognize all 119 kids by their names. Impressed? You will be even more so, when you find out that Robovie is not human but a robot, masquerading as a fifth-grade student!
Developed by Japan's Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, the 1.2 meter (3.9 feet) tall student is part of a 14-month experiment to test if robots can gradually learn to interact naturally and assimilate with a group of people.
While the company has previously conducted several experiments in various settings, this is the longest duration by far, and is all part of their bigger vision of making robots household fixtures, previous attempts at which, have been quite unsuccessful. This time around they decided to pick a school because it allows the bot to gather and hopefully incorporate copious amounts of data from the active and curious kids around him.
And though Robovie's amazing memory may have impressed you, he does have an unfair advantage - Though his daily conversation level has been restricted to that of a five-year old in the hope that he will develop his vocabulary by interacting with the fifth graders, he was preprogrammed with the facial photos and voiceprints of all 119 fifth graders and teachers, as well as, the contents of the entire fifth grade science text book. Nonetheless, he impressed the class by answering correctly that a wound up copper wire could also be called a copper coil, prompting a fellow student to quip 'It's smarter than me'!
While still early, Robovie is doing quite well on the social front too - Not only did he acknowledge all the students in his grade but after class, also shook hands with the sixth graders and was even polite enough to answer all their questions, just like any other new student would do. But then, this is not the first time Robovie (or another version of him) has been around humans. In the past he has been assigned to many tasks including helping the elderly shop for groceries.