Residency Malta is financing a University of Malta Centre for Literacy initiative – EduRoboKids. The two-year project will study how verbal and multimodal interaction takes place between humans and robots, how children on the autism spectrum respond verbally and emotionally to robots in learning situations and what kind of problem-solving situations children have in communicating with robots.
Robotic systems targeted towards people on the autism spectrum, especially children, are a growing subfield of social robotics and human-robot interaction (HRI) research.
Residency Malta has allocated funds amounting to €85,000, over two years, for the research and development required for this project, which will start immediately. Three educational robots will be purchased, with the aim of assisting seven- to ten-year-old children with learning challenges, including those on the autism spectrum.
Professor Charles L. Mifsud, Centre for Literacy director, ideator and driver of the project, introduced Tommy the Robot to the press and explained how through this project, learners will be able to interact with a social robot but also programme it, train it to remember and learn things over time, and have reflective conversations with their peers, prompted by it.
“The humanoid and social robots will act as learning companions for the children. They will not serve as substitute teachers. There is a large body of international research evidence which shows that such social robots have been used effectively with children with learning difficulties, especially those on the autism spectrum”, said Professor Mifsud. “The EduRoboKids solutions will test child engagement, language development, interaction and communication levels and the gaining of general literacy skills. We are grateful to Residency Malta Agency for choosing to support our research, which will contribute towards the international body of knowledge that exists on the use of social robots to promote communication and learning and help develop adequate responses to the learning needs of diverse children.”
The project work will be implemented in three phases which will include the testing of solutions, digital and connectivity support, educator training and the production of training materials. This will be followed by piloting the project with a number of children, parents and educators.
Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Communities Alex Muscat said: “There is no better investment than in the education of our children, who will become the citizens of tomorrow. We are more than pleased to be supporting such an initiative, as part of Residency Malta’s corporate social responsibility commitments. It is opportunities like these which tangibly show how income derived from foreign investment can be diverted to social initiatives that benefit our community.”
Charles Mizzi, Chief Executive Officer of Residency Malta Agency said: “This initiative is very much aligned with our core values, one of which is to build links between our beneficiaries and the community, by supporting local projects that give value to our society.”
Source: Office of the Prime Minister