A number of fortunate students at 21 elementary schools in the Southeast city of Daegu, South Korea are testing out a new kind of educator - A robot teacher. The 29 droids that have been deployed for a five-month trial, are the brainchild of The Korean Institute of Technology, which is trying to promote the integration of robots into people's daily lives.
Designed to teach English, the egg-shaped robots have been pre-programmed to read books, sing songs and play alphabet games. Just like human teachers, they can also roam around the class on their wheels, and even dance to music by moving their arms and heads.
While they appear to be completely autonomous, the robots are controlled by human educators from the Philippines, who can hear and see the children's reactions via a remote controlled device. The children can also observe the teacher's expressions, which are reflected on the avatar that is pasted onto the flat panel television atop the robot's neck.
The $1.4mm USD pilot program has been sponsored by the government to test if children respond better to robots than humans. Also, the cost of hiring English teachers remotely is far lower than bringing them into the country. They also believe that if the robots prove to be reliable and effective, they can be sent to remote regions, where the teachers are reluctant to go. An added benefit is that robots don't get sick, ask for vacations or pay or up and away for a better paying gig! A little maintenance and oil every now and again and, they are good to go. However, the officials do maintain that these robots will be assisting human teachers, not replacing them, anytime in the near future.
While the initial trials are going really well, there are still some hurdles that need to be overcome before the rolling eggheads show up all across South Korea. They still require a lot of handling and at a cost of about $8,000USD each, are a little too steep for mass deployment. If these relatively minor problems can be overcome, robot teachers will become a common sight across all schools in South Korea and maybe, other parts of the world too!
Sources: Dailymail.co.uk, heraldsun.co.au