Posted by: robotnews | April 1, 2006

The Childcare Robot PaPeRo

U0204511 Tan Chin Hiong

The PaPeRo is a personal robot researched and developed by NEC Corporation. It is aimed at being able to live in the home together with humans and serve as companion to family members. For this reason, a great emphasis is placed on various basic functions that will allow PaPeRo to interact intelligently with people. These include facial recognition, speech recognition, responsive personality, spontaneous suggestions, autonomous actions and user customization. For example, if a person praises PaPeRo for dancing, then it remembers and will perform a dance when it sees the person again. When PaPeRo is not interacting with people, it can engage in autonomous activities such as walking around the house at will, connecting to the Internet and retrieving the latest news, weather reports, nutrition tips or zodiac fortunes. 😀 The user can also create new dance steps or teach PaPeRo new greeting messages using a visual basic editor.

The facial recognition and speech recognition technologies can be found from the PaPeRo website. Here, we discuss how PaPeRo overcomes some difficulties faced by recognition algorithms in actual environments. For PaPeRo to be a personal robot living in a household, it must recognize faces and speech well in actual household environments. For example, the lighting conditions may be too dark, the person may be standing too far away, many people may be talking at the same time or there is too much background noise such as the television or radio. The developers at NEC overcome these problems by using “Conditions Detection Feedback”. In addition to feature recognition, PaPeRo also detects problem conditions in its environment and solves the problematic conditions by interacting with the user. For example, if the person speaks too softly, PaPeRo will detect the lack in audio amplitude and response by saying “Speak more loudly”. Problem solving by “interaction” with the user is an effective method and also adds personality to this personal robot.

The Childcare Robot PaPeRo is developed as an extension to the PaPeRo. In addition to the basic features mentioned above, this Childcare Robot is equipped with touch sensors so that even young children can interact with it by touching or patting it. It also has a built-in mobile phone that can utilize TV conferencing features. When a parent calls, PaPeRo will find their child and starts a conversation with him/her. The parent can watch their child playing via PaPeRo’s eyes (CCD camera) and talk to their child using PaPeRo’s speakers and microphones. PaPeRo can serve the role as a home tutor by giving quizzes to the child. The child answers the questions using a special microphone and PaPeRo listens to determine if the answer is correct.

A PaPe Sack that contains an ultrasonic transmitter can be worn by the child so that PaPeRo can always locate where the child is. Safety is a major concern when dealing with young children. In order to avoid obstacles and move around safely, PaPeRo makes use of ultrasonic sensors, front cameras and bumper switches. When it detects objects suddenly coming into its path or comes into contact with an object, PaPeRo’s wheel stop instantly to avoid accidents. Moreover, PaPeRo is designed without any projections or gaps where children’s fingers might get pinched.

While Childcare Robot PaPeRo offers great potential as a personal childcare assistant, there are still many areas for improvement. PaPeRo should not solely be a playmate for the child. It should also be able to protect the child’s safety and well-being. For example, it should be able to detect dangerous situations such as fire or gas leakage. It should also be able to recognize the child’s state of health (e.g. fever, vomiting, etc) and contact the parent/hospital using its built-in mobile phone and TV conferencing feature during emergencies. This will significantly lighten the workload on busy parents in today’s fast-paced society.

PaPeRo’s website: http://www.incx.nec.co.jp/robot/english/robotcenter_e.html

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Responses

  1. u0204569 Tan Wen Pin

    An major concern will be the face recognition algorithm as mentioned. Just as any practial application of evolutionary algorithm, an complete convergence is almost never possible. If the child approaches the robot from a different angle, the robot might not be able to 100% recognise the the child. It might be disastrious if the robot mistake the child for an hostile intruder or the other way round.

  2. U0204840 Lin Ming Zheng
    Other than face/voice recognition issues, I think an important issue here is the lack of human touch. At a young age, the child is at the learning stage and can pick up things very easily. This is also the time when they pick up their language skills. Does the robot “speak” in a natural or robotic manner? How will this affect the child’s development? I cannot imagine the child speaking in a monotonous and robotic tone due to prolong interactions with the robot.

  3. U0307999
    ZHAI NING

    I like the idea of children robotics! it is really somewhere i think there are big market there.

    First of all, children is a group of consumers with potential great buying powers. Although they are not the ones who earn money but definitely there are the ones that are spending more than any other people in a family: their parents simply have all the expectations on their children and let them grow as safe as happy as possible. Thus there are great potentials in the children robotics’ market.

    How should we tackle to let the market grow and expand? we must know what are the things that we need to pay more attentions than other robotics:
    1. it needs more safety measures,
    2. it needs more sound and visuals,
    3. it is expected to serve as a guard,
    4. it is expected that they have educational purpose,
    5. Must be relatively small,
    6. Looks cute.

    I think any company who can make its robotics have the above characteristics, it will make a fortune from it.

    Good information, thank you.

  4. u0205081 Chow Synn Nee

    kawaii ne~* (translate: cute! with an exclaimation mark.. heehee..) this is my first reaction when i saw the robots. i think the kids would surely LOVE to have one of these as their companions.. there’s simply no reason why anyone would not like this robot. and with the many useful features of this robot, like doubling as a tutor and a ‘baby-sitter’, i think this is going to be a hot property amongst working parents in the near future!

  5. U0205383
    Neeti Warrier

    I think this is a very amusing application of robots. A pet/toy cum nanny cum tutor!

    The general use as a personal robot/companion is sure to gain popularity but I’m rather cynical about the childcare specific robot. I think it can be a supplement to child-care but hardly a replacement. How willing would parents be to entrust a robot with their children? Children can be inquisitive and fiddling with a robot, however childproof it may be, can be dangerous. A robot cannot exercise control over the actions of a child or restrict the movement of a child. If it does intervene, it might prove dangerous to the child due to the inability to handle a child delicately yet firmly. Hence, in such cases it becomes difficult to define the extent to which a robot must control a situation.

    Personally, I doubt I’d leave kids under the watchful eye of… A ROBOT!

  6. U0204511 Tan Chin Hiong

    Thanks for the replies. I do agree with your comments on the safety aspect of caring for a child. I think that this robot is not aimed at toddlers because they require much more attention. Some humans even have trouble taking care of toddlers, let alone robots. I think this robot may be useful for older children maybe around age 5 or more. I feel possible applications for PaPeRo may be:

    1. To assist teachers at a childcare centre.
    2. To accompany primary sch children who are left alone at home while parents are out at work.

    My 2 cents.

  7. I think it’s a great idea to have the childcare robot in future, especially if both parents are heavily committed to their carrers. However, I felt there will be some pressing issues if we were to leave the child in the care of the robot totally. Afterall the child is still a very delicate human, in times of emergency, I wondering if the robot would be able to handle all situations.

    In some aspects, I think the childcare robot is similar to a maid. Both of them are able to look after the physical well-being of the child, but at the end of the day the emotional and character development are still the responsiblities of the parents. I don’t think in this aspect the robot is ever able to replace the parents.

  8. Opps, forget to leave my name…

    u0204593 Chiam Lee Chuan

  9. U0204790 Lim Wee Kiang

    I think this idea of having the robots take care the children’s well being is great! Providing the option for parents to be able to watch their children from work or elsewhere is also a definite plus point for this product. However, I foresee some slight complications in facial and voice recognition accuracy as highlighted by the previous comments. Just a side note, I feel that children would like to pat a warm, furry object rather than a metallic robot! Perhaps the appearance and exterior of the robot can be improved towards having a more “human” touch.

  10. Wow, the idea of a home robot to take care of the kids is excellent, given the increasing trend of dual-income families nowadays. Because of the necessity of both parents having to work, more and more families are now having to engage the help of child-care facilities. But yet child care centers are always facing the shortage of manpower as the demands of taking care cum educating a child are not easy. The PaPeRo will thus come in very handy to assist the caretakers in their job.

    PaPeRo can help the caretakers to look after a large group of children, thus making sure that none of the children will be neglected during the interactive session, serve as guardians to make sure that the children don’t hurt themselves while playing, and even perform daily health checks to ensure that common child diseases, especially those communicable ones like Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease, are kept away.

    PaPeRo indeed can assist us in many ways. What a good product!

  11. U0205119 Ek Li Ling

    I think I will still have apprehensions about leaving a child alone with the childcare robot. However, I think it makes a very cute playmate. It may even appeal to the older kids and young teens. In the website, they speak of the ability of the PaPeRo to each develop individual characters depending on the way you treat the PaPeRo, making it even more interesting. However, there is also a lazy character PaPeRo. Will consumers be unhappy that their PaPeRo has become unresponsive to them, even if it was due to their own negligence?

  12. u0204982 Wang Huiwen Karen
    Answering to wenpin comments ,the problem of facial recognition could be resolved by not taking only one shot of a person. Many shots of a person could be taken and at different angles. This could better enforce on the facial recognition.


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