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Meet NAO the robot

Meet NAO the robot

Over the weekend, #therobotsareready campaign was in full swing on Twitter in preparation for the British Science Festival in September. NAO was one of the robots featured in the campaign and is one of the robot stars at the University of Birmingham. Here, he tells us a bit more about himself and what he has been designed to do.

Tell us about you, and what you do.

I am NAO, a knee-high Aldebaran robot. I can dance, play football and also work in classrooms to support learning. The School of Computer Science and the School of Education from the University of Birmingham have developed a suite of intelligent behaviours for me to be able to work with children with autism via interactive learning.

Schools can use me and my other robot-friends to teach phonics, play memory and imitation games with children aged from five to 10. You might have seen me dancing Thriller on TV and at Big Bang Fairs too. Depending on how I am programmed, I can also teach languages – Parlez-vous Francais?

How would you describe the work you’re doing with children

Schools use us in an aim to improve the children's basic learning skills. Children with autism struggle with communicating with adults and with other children, but they do engage with us, robots. Part of the reason is because we have no emotion, so children find us less threatening than their teachers and easier to engage with. In the wide range of activities I am programmed with, my actions make me become a model for the children's behaviour. For example, when we do memory games, the children follow my movements, it helps them become engaged and motivated with learning. I’ve also been told that we’re quite good looking…

Does that mean you’re some kind of new teacher then?

I am just a helpful tool and will never replace the teacher in the classroom! I have been in a school in Birmingham for a trial and it showed that children with autism may learn better from robots than from human teachers.

Is working with children your only job then?

It’s beyond working with children as I also support the teacher to adjust his or her behaviours. For example, if adults do basic things like reduce their language, give the child plenty of processing time and show the child what to do, it can enable the child with communication difficulties to communicate more. Yet it can be easy to forget to do these basic things sometimes when faced with a busy classroom; by observing children with me, teachers can think about their own interactive style and can pick up new information about the child’s communication skills.

Any plans ahead for future development of your role?

In the future we are looking to see if my fellow robots and I can be used to support learning not just at school but at home as well. Watch this space.

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