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Robot pals to teach refugee kids German

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Robot pals to teach refugee kids German
Photo: CITEC/Universität Bielefeld/DPA
12:02 CET+01:00
Refugee children could soon be learning German with the help of a tiny humanoid robot, thanks to a new project from researchers at the University of Bielefeld.

Scientists plan to spend three years working on their plan to see whether the little androids make it easier for children aged between four and five to pick up the notoriously difficult language.

Along with a tablet computer, 60-centimetre tall "Nao" robots made by French company Aldebaran will help the children work through language exercises.

"Teaching every child a second language individually is something kindergartens usually can't manage," said Bielefeld University artificial intelligence expert Professor Stefan Kopp.

But the cute robots can have a motivating effect on the children and teach them simple language like numbers or prepositions.

Nao robots cost more than €7,000 and are delivered with a basic operating system and various sensors such as cameras and microphones.

Users like the Bielefeld professors can then add their own programming to adapt Nao for whatever task they have in mind.

Kopp and his colleagues want to set up Nao so that he can recognise and react to the children's level of knowledge and the progress they make while working with him.

"We'll program the robot so that he can lead the interaction with the child, so that the child will be supported as well as possible," said research colleague Kirsten Bergmann.

Before Nao can enter a real classroom, though, his effectiveness will have to be examined under laboratory conditions.

The German scientists are also working with colleagues at the Universities of Utrecht and Tilburg in the Netherlands, Plymouth in the UK and Koc in Turkey.

A right royal welcome

It's not the first time Nao has made headlines in Germany.

Students at the Technical University in Berlin taught their Nao unit how to greet Queen Elizabeth II when she visited the German capital in June.

But they only taught him to wave, fearing that a bowing robot might end up in an undignified tumble forwards and spoil the occasion.

The first little machines will be sent into kindergartens in around 18 months to begin the testing.

Meanwhile, here's a little seasonal greeting the University of Freiburg put together with its own Nao robots in 2013.

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