Monday, April 17, 2006

QRIO Spies on Kids in School

Last year we read about QRIO attending nursery school in California and how the children were treating him like a "feeble younger brother." This was, of course, before his rise to stardom with politics, dance and music videos and more recent politics.

It turns out that during the nursery school days QRIO was actually on a covert mission to uncover the scandalous truth behind the seemingly simple life in the California school.

In a paper delivered in March at the Annual Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, researchers reported on what QRIO uncovered.

QRIO infiltrated a nursery school with children up to 24 months old. The young age of the children was chosen so that QRIO would not have to use his speaking skills.

QRIO would stay in a side room at the nursery while the kids were free to play with him or not. QRIO would try to lure the kids into his influence by playing music and dancing.
He used two dance modes to beguile the unsuspecting students. Sometimes he would perform an open-loop dance. This is a dance where he ignores the movements of the kids and hopes that they will mimic him. Other times he would use his visual feedback skills to perform actual closed loop dancing with the children and mimic their upper body movements.

The encounters were secretly video taped and played back over and over for researchers. (Probably at their wild academic parties.)

Other times QRIO played music but was nowhere to be seen.

The results, unveiled at the conference, showed that kids have more interest in a dancing robot than they do in music with no robot.
It turns out that the kids really do not care if the robot tries to copy them dancing or not. (Too bad for the sucker who spent years writing the software for the closed-loop dance mode.)
It seems that the children would leave and come back about the same amount of time - three minutes or so - no matter what was going on.

Another part of the study looked at how often QRIO was knocked over. It showed that for the first few days the kids wouldn't get near him so he hardly ever fell over. After a couple of weeks though the story changed. It looks like he spent more time on his ass than his feet. (This must have been a very dark time for QRIO. Like any undercover detective he must have questioned his own motivations and wondered whether it was really worth it at all.) But after awhile, as he gained the sympathy of the test subjects, he managed to stay on his feet more. In the last days of the experiment they never pushed him over even once.

The study does not say how the children felt after the experiment was over and QRIO just did not show up in class anymore. There was probably much sadness when they heard he was gone - for about three minutes or so.

QRIO's proven skill at gaining the confidence of a group of innocent people and his ability to penetrate their social group makes one wonder. What has this seeminly innocent and curious robot been up to as he travels the world like - well, like James Bond?

Children 'bond with robots' | World Breaking News | The Australian


Anonymous Javier Movellan said...

QRIO is just a useful tool used as part of the RUBI project. The goal of the project is to explore new interactive technologies for education. The project is based on the belief that we can accelerate progress by having scientists and engineers move out of their laboratories and inmmersing themselves in the environment of interest, in this case the classroom. In practice this means we put a great deal of time and effort volunteering and bonding with children, parents, and teachers. This allowed us to learn quite a bit about the problem of interacting with other humans in real time, a problem that our brains solve effortlessly but that has been elusive to Artificial Intelligence. I happen to believe that the reason why we dont have robots helping in everyday life is that laboratory reseearch has moved us in the wrong direction, thus the need for immersion in natural environments.

You can learn more abou the project at

10:33 AM, April 18, 2006  

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