The National Science Foundation is spending nearly a half a million dollars to create robots that can tell stories to preschoolers.
The $440,885 project seeks to "push the envelope" of normal storytelling aimed at four-year-olds. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is conducting the study, which began last month.
"Early language ability, including vocabulary skills and oral language knowledge during preschool, is an important predictor of children’s academic success in subsequent school years," the grant states. "Social robots that can engage children as personalized learning companions hold great promise in augmenting the learning experience of children with parents and teachers."
The researchers explain that robots are unique because they can "play, learn, and engage with children in the real world."
"The ultimate goal is to foster the development, learning and promotion of academic achievements and the well-being of children," the grant said. "Such robots offer unique opportunities of guided, personalized and controlled social interaction during the delivery of a desired curriculum. They can play, learn and engage with children in the real world—physically, socially, and emotively."
The project will develop robots that can act as tutors and tell preschoolers long stories.
"This research project develops and assesses the efficacy of an autonomous, personalized social robot that engages as a learning companion on the language development of pre-school children in the context of storytelling tasks," the grant said. "For this purpose, the research project develops a novel automatic story analysis tool, and a new personalized story generation algorithm, that pushes the envelope of current understanding of free-form storytelling and how fosters the development of early language skills in pre-school aged children."
The study will use the robots for nine months at a time at multiple preschools. Research is slated to continue until August 2017.
Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, is leading the study. She is also the founder and chief scientist of Jibo, Inc., a company that sells social robots that work similar to Apple’s Siri.
Jibo robots do not walk but can order take out.