Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab, thinks robots can do much more than vacuum our floors or perform a fan-dance. Previous “social robots” developed by her group have been able to display emotion in reaction to human prompts or even notice and understand nonverbal cues. Now she’s hoping her machines can improve children’s entertainment beyond simple staring at screens.
Breazeal, a mother of three young boys, is also excited about using her creations for early-childhood education. One project, Playtime Computing, blends a virtual fantasy world with a physical “Alphabot” that allows kids to take part in entertainment instead of just sitting there passively watching a TV show. Playtime Computing hasn’t made its way to elementary schools quite yet, but it could play an important role in teaching children language skills, as well as creating new opportunities for distance learning.
Only time will tell if robots become the new babysitter of choice for busy parents of the future.