Humanoid robots that can see, hear, speak and communicate with humans are being deployed throughout schools in Warwickshire to increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
The so-called NAO robot, made by Aldebaran Robotics, is a fully programmable, 58cm-tall humanoid robot with a sensor network that includes cameras, microphones and pressure sensors, as well as a voice synthesiser and two high-fidelity speakers.
Users can create and edit the robot's movements and interactive behaviour using Aldebaran's Choregraphe programming software, which the company claims is easy to use even with no prior knowledge of writing code.
NAO is intended for teachers of computer science, engineering and mechanics to use as a learning aid in lessons, to illustrate abstract concepts and explain mathematical theorems and principles in physics, electronics and ICT.
For example, teachers can explain to students how to write a piece of code that will instruct the robot to walk five paces, and then test out the students' attempts on the robot itself. If there are errors in the code the robot will fall over, so the code can then be modified.
NAO can also be used in primary schools to introduce children to robotics at an early age. In this case, children can interact with the robot and teach it to perform certain actions using voice commands, or by touching its head, arms or legs.
"So far this year we have worked with thousands of students looking at robotics," said John Pinkney, consultant at Warwickshire Local Authority ICT Development Service.
"NAO captures the imagination of young people and provides a broad range of learning opportunities. The combination of this powerful technology and the creative minds of young people is very exciting and one which will have a real impression on teaching and learning."
King's High School for Girls in Warwick is currently testing out NAO, using a course programme developed by Warwickshire Local Authority ICT Development Service
"NAO has brought renewed challenge and excitement to our ICT curriculum and has given students access to cutting-edge technology," said Pat Prance, Head of ICT at King's High.
"Seeing their programs come to life through NAO gives them strong motivation and the opportunity to express their creativity. It has also opened students' eyes to the possibilities presented by an expanding area of ICT."
NAO is currently being used in over 200 secondary schools worldwide. From December 2012, Aldebaran Robotics will also provide teachers with content that is suitable to their course programme.
"A humanoid robot is packed with the latest technology, bringing together the most avant-garde science and techniques," said Bruno Maisonnier, founder and chairman of Aldebaran Robotics.
"We should applaud this raising of awareness led by schools throughout the world."