April 18, 2006

Toddlers Dazzle Sony Researchers By Playing With Robot

What is it with Japanese robotics scientists, don't they ever interact with actual children? When Sony stuck one of its little humanoid-shaped QRIO robots in a San Diego day care center, the kids--all under two years old--interacted and "bonded" with it.

Mr Tanaka says researchers are increasingly convinced that children consider the robot not a toy or a living human being but "something between the two", a difficult idea for adults to understand.
Yeah, difficult for anyone who hasn't watched a kid drag a stuffed bunny around by its ears one minute and then gently tuck it into bed the next.

Today the kid woke up from her nap and immediately started spreading blankets out on the floor, stacking them to make a "nest for the birdies." She went on to talk about how the birds will walk in the house, and then come and rest on the nest she built. [Of course, she repeated this story about one million times.]

When I thought I'd help her out, I went to get the only bird in the house, the little motorized chick from her easter basket. I put it down in the nest, and she goes, "no daddy, it's for a real birdie."

That kids have a mutable sense of reality that's influenced and defined by their interaction and feedback should be a surprise to no one who knows one. And the fact that they "bond" with a kid-sized robot that's interacting with them via remote control tells me Japanese roboticists just don't get to see their own kids enough.

Children 'bond with robots' [the australian, via wmmna, w/pix]
Previously: Amazing childcare robot mostly just sits there
Related: Beck programs Sony robots to do the white guy shuffle


Wired had a long article about this project a few months ago. That writer said the kids got really excited when Qrio showed up and started dancing, but they pretty quickly grew bored with him, because dance was all he did. Eventually he was left standing there by himself, dancing away...

[how sad. especially since we know he can't dance. -ed.]

That story is adorable... I can only imagine when my daughter hits that age; she's crazy about birds (dogs/horses/any other animal you see a lot of in this city) as it is now.

I can totally see toddlers bonding with robots like that though, yeah; just thinking of how mine drags her little baby doll around all day sometimes, putting it to sleep, feeding it, etc. (The other day she was cramming rice she found -- on the floor, of course -- into the space between its plastic lips.) She knows it's not real, obviously, and will throw it when she's mad, but then if you tell her the baby is crying, she'll grab it to pat its back and console it in a second.

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