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Dad my classmate is a robot

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Imagine a time when robots will rub shoulders with our children in the classroom. Well, that time has come. Tommy is the first humanoid to arrive in Malta – one of three social robots brought in by the Center for Literacy at the University of Malta as part of a research and development project led by Professor Charles L. Mifsud.

Tommy is a learning companion who will inspire children to respond verbally and emotionally in a learning situation. Thanks to the child-robot interaction, children will learn to communicate better. They will also learn a myriad of social skills. Not only will they interact with Tommy, but they will also be able to program him and train him to remember and learn things over time. Tommy will also encourage them to have thoughtful conversations with each other.

The exceptional value this project will reap lies in the area of ​​learning challenges, with children with autism. You see, Tommy’s facial expressions and tone of voice are non-judgmental. He’s also patient – the perfect learning companion for kids who struggle to make friends and fit in.

Three educational robots will be deployed to determine how the verbal and multimodal interaction between humans and robots unfolds, children’s responses and the type of problem-solving actions they will take. The objective is to specifically support children aged 7 to 10 with learning difficulties. The study will test children’s engagement, language development, levels of interaction and communication, and the acquisition of reading and independent skills.

It was a pleasure to discuss at length with Professor Mifsud whose vast experience in the application of technology to education and his passion for the field of literacy have inspired many important projects to date. He explained to me how robotic systems targeting people with the autism spectrum, especially children, are a growing subfield of social robotics and human-robot interaction research. He is delighted to contribute to the international body of knowledge that exists on the use of social robots to promote communication and learning and to help develop adequate responses to the learning needs of diverse children.

Residency Malta Agency is investing € 85,000 over two years in this project called EduRoboKids. This is part of our commitment to hand over funds from our operations in order to attract foreign investment instead of permanent residence for suitable families from third countries. This is perhaps one of the most tangible corporate responsibility commitments that people can identify and warm up to. It is heartwarming to know that our efforts economically also leave an impact in the social sphere, especially on our children.

Project work will be implemented in three phases which will include testing of solutions, digital support and connectivity, training of educators and production of training materials. This step will be followed by piloting the project with a certain number of children, parents and educators.

There is no better investment than in the education of our children, who will become the citizens of tomorrow. My two sons are growing up fast. I know now, more than ever, that their future in learning is indeed bright.

Robots in the classroom? No more science fiction!

Charles Mizzi, Managing Director, Residency Malta Agency

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