learning robots

Swiss Technology Innovators Play with Learning Robots

Swissnex Boston hosted an unofficial kickoff to the Cambridge Science Festival on April 4th, inviting the community to explore the latest technology in learning robots.

Teachers, parents, tech entrepreneurs, and children gathered for a presentation complete with New England clam chowder and a live demonstration.

Of course, in true Swiss fashion, there was wine, too.

Two researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland introduced their latest robotics studies. Dr. Wafa Johal, a post-doctorate in the school’s Computer-Human Interaction in Learning and Instruction Group (or CHILI Lab), is researching how robots can help children with their writing through a “protogé” effect.

The CoWriter is a humanoid robot designed to be bad at writing and needs a child with the same difficulties to instruct him. Through correcting the robot’s writing, the child gains confidence in his own skills as he takes on an authoritative role that might otherwise not be achievable in a crowded classroom. Johal has also performed eye-tracking experiments to learn how MOOC instructors engage students while lecturing.

Doctoral researcher, Ayberk Özgür demonstrated minimalist “tangible” robots in the Cellulo Project that the CHILI Lab is developing to engage students in three-dimensional learning. These small, round swarm robots fit in the palm of the user’s hand and connects its movements over a paper map to live-motion interaction on a tablet meteorology lesson. “It feels like a nice purpose,” said Özgür. “Why not contribute in a technological manner?”

Johal was happy to see children interacting with the Cellulo robots and already noted ways to improve the technology. “Education is the base of society,” she said. “If you don’t have an education, you don’t think about the future.”

Jonas Brunschwig is the project leader for academic relations at swissnex Boston who organized the event. He hoped to merge Switzerland’s premiere tech innovation with Boston’s excellent higher-ed resources. “We’re putting Switzerland on the radar of these children’s parents,” he said.

This weekend marks the final three days of the Cambridge Science Festival. Check out the schedule for more exciting events, like today’s nature walk and makerspace mashup celebrating Earth Day.

Jennifer Ortakales

Jennifer Ortakales

Jennifer is a Boston-based freelance journalist who has covered emerging fashion and New York Fashion Week for Papercut magazine. When she isn't talking people's ears off, she studies art history and reconstructs thrift clothes into her own designs.