Swiss nursery lets robot have its say

Sat in a circle on the nursery floor, a group of Swiss three-year-olds ask a robot named Nao questions about giraffes and broccoli. By the time these children reach adulthood, interacting with robots could be as common as using a smartphone, experts think. That’s why a daycare center in Lausanne has decided to give them a head start. Nao has been a regular visitor to the Nanosphere nursery on the campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology since New Year. He is what is called an ‘interactive learning facilitator’, rather than a substitute teacher.

When the children were dropped off, Nao – who is only 58 centimeters tall – stood on a bench to greet them at eye level. ‘Hello, my name is Nao. I’m glad to be in the Nanosphere today,” he said in a childish high-pitched voice. “I left my planet a while ago to come meet you. I look forward to getting to know you and talking with you in the coming weeks.” Some children walked right past him, others waved, pointed, touched his hand or simply looked at him with fascination.

‘No fighting!’

“What will the future of the children look like? Will they have to work with robots? Very likely,” Olivier Delamadeleine, director general of the Educalis group of daycare centers and primary schools in Lausanne, told AFP. Instead of learning, it is important to introduce them early so that they get used to working with robots,” he added. Back in the classroom, teacher Eve L’Eplattenier and the fourteen children sat in a circle on the floor with Nao in the middle. “He’s coming to explain things to you,” she said.

Preschoolers interact with the educational and interactive robot Nao in the nursery “La Nanosphere”.

Teacher Eve L’Eplattenier and preschoolers interact with educational and interactive robot Nao in the crèche “La Nanosphere”.

Master’s student in robotics Gabriel Paffi helps educational and interactive robot Nao get up in the crèche “La Nanosphere”.

Educational and interactive robot Nao welcomes a toddler and her father to the nursery “La Nanosphere”.

Preschoolers watch the educational and interactive robot Nao in the nursery “La Nanosphere”.

“Do you like broccoli? It is very good for your health,” said the robot. L’Eplattenier picked him up and placed him on a table. She said that Nao would not grow beyond children. The children gathered around them excitedly, some jockeying for space. Nao told them. At the urging of their teacher, the children tried to catch him with questions like: “I am an animal with a trunk. What am I?” When he got it right, they giggled.

‘Little know-it-all’

Gabriel Paffi, a robotics master’s student, sat in the corner and gave Nao his answers. He has programmed the robot and is working on how to adapt it to the needs of a daycare center. “The goal is to make it automated so he no longer needs me to walk around and respond to the kids,” Paffi said. The first Nao robots came onto the market in 2008. Now in its sixth generation, the brand is owned by the German government. -based United Robotics Group and has sold more than 15,000 units.

The plan is for this Nao to spend several years in the Educalis nurseries as its capabilities expand. L’Eplattenier said the kids are excited when Nao shows up, and they’ve bonded with their little friend. “They’re curious to see what he’s going to say and do,” she said. ‘He is a companion with little tips and advice. “I think he will quickly position himself as the little know-it-all of the group.” As for the parents, they are also curious about how Nao will settle down.

“I think it is a good way to let the children progress with new technologies,” said Guillaume Quentin. When it was time for Nao to “fly back into space,” each child in turn shuffled over to say goodbye and wave to him. . He answered everyone by name. ‘I love you. I will be back soon,” he told them. – AFP