Toddlers Bond With Robot, Study Shows

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
November 5, 2007

Will the robot revolution begin in nursery school?

Researchers introduced a state-of-the-art social robot into a classroom of 18- to 24-month-olds for five months as a way of studying human-robot interactions.

The children not only came to accept the robot but treated it as they would a human buddy—hugging it and helping it—a new study says.

"The results imply that current robot technology is surprisingly close to achieving autonomous bonding and socialization with human toddlers," said Fumihide Tanaka, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

The findings will be published tomorrow in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(Related: "Robot Code of Ethics to Prevent Android Abuse, Protect Humans" [March 16, 2007].)


The development of robots that interact socially with people has been difficult to achieve, experts say, partly because such interactions are hard to study.

"To my knowledge, this is the first long-term study of this sort," said Ronald Arkin, a roboticist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not involved with the study.

"It is groundbreaking … and helps to forward human-robot interaction studies significantly," he said.

The most successful robots so far have been storytellers, but they have only been able to hold human interest for a limited time.

For the new study, researchers introduced a toddler-size humanoid robot into a classroom at a UCSD childhood education center. One of the QRIO series of robots, the 23-inch-tall (58-centimeter-tall) machine was originally developed by Sony.

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