Kids Connect with Robot Reading Partners

CS professor Bilge Mutlu and grad student Joseph Michaelis believe companion robots will soon be a fixture in homes, and they wondered if those robots could serve as social learning companions for kids.

They designed a two-week reading program including 25 books representing a range of reading skill and story complexity, and programmed Minnie to be an interested listener. The children in the study read aloud to the robot, which could track their progress in the book and react to the story — every few pages or so, especially during important moments in the plot — with one of hundreds of preprogrammed comments.

“After one interaction, the kids were generally telling us that, sure, it was nice to have someone to read with,” says Joeseph Michaelis, a UW–Madison graduate student studying educational psychology. “But by the end of two weeks, they’re talking about how the robot was funny and silly and afraid, and how they’d come home looking forward to seeing it again.”

Read all about their research, just published in the journal Science Robotics, in this University Communications story.