While some may believe that robots will spell the end of all humanity, others believe they have some impressive possibility when it comes to education. To that end, ALDEBARAN Robotics is bringing over 200 of their NAO robots to secondary schools around the world, geared toward increasing students' interest in math, the various sciences, and engineering.
The NAO robot is a small humanoid robot, just 58 cm (just under two feet tall at 22.8346 inches) tall that boasts a full array of sensors, including cameras, microphones, and even pressure sensors to allow it a reasonably full, if somewhat limited, experiential array. It's also packing in a voice synthesizer system and two high-fidelity speakers so that it can respond verbally to its experiences. Starting in December 2012, the NAO robot will also come with the NAO Ankle Kit, a sub-assembly designed at studying just the ankle of an NAO, as well as several key pieces of content to integrate the NAO into standard course curricula.
But the NAO robot's clear benefit to education comes in the form of the Choreographe system that operates the NAO. Described as a piece of highly flexible programming software, Choreographe not only gives students the opportunity to learn programming languages--also providing explanations for certain appropriate mathematical theorems--but to see the results of their programming directly pay off in the robot's movements.
The managing director of Active Robots, NAO's UK distributor, Antony Lovedale, described the impact that NAO robots can have on the educational process: “Technology has reached the point where robots are becoming a close reality in our daily lives. ALDEBARAN Robotics is leading the way in worldwide research, state-of-the-art robotics, and teaching aids that are becoming commonplace in progressive universities and schools worldwide. We are excited by the opportunities NAO represents to advance robotics within UK schools, higher education and research.”
One of the great standards of behavioral psychology is the point of reinforcement, providing reward and punishment alike to encourage desired behaviors to be repeated or to discourage behaviors to be avoided. The NAO robot provides that note of reinforcement by allowing students to see the results of their programming, in real time, in the real world. While in some cases, programming languages might make something happen on a computer screen, Choreographe and the NAO robot allow programming to translate into actual, real-world events. This in turn is much more likely to encourage children and teenagers to stick with education in programming, as they can see the impact they're having and want to continue to have that kind of impact.
The NAO robot program is just getting started, so its fullest impact won't be evident for quite some time. But still, getting the young interested in math and science again, and showing quite clearly the availability of careers in the field, will likely pay dividends of improved scientific advancement. Though those dividends won't be paid for some time, they will be welcome when they do arrive.
Edited by Brooke Neuman