Let’s start with the obvious: this thing is adorable. Less obvious: this thing is powerfully smart. Not only can it learn from you, but it’s cloud-connected, meaning it can learn from other DragonBots. I don’t covet many toys. But I’d fight you for this one.
This first DragonBot (named Kombusto) was designed to help pre-schoolers learn language, but it’s a far cry from the Teddy Ruxbins of olde. Researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Northeastern collaborated to create a bot that not only was very good with language, but could work with visual cues which are a key component of how we communicate. To do that, instead of eyes made of marbles with fabric flaps for lids, the DragonBot employs an Android phone display for its eyes, which makes them much more animated and capable of expression. But the smartphone integration isn’t just for aesthetics.
The Android phone is the brain and central nervous system of the DragonBot. It controls the DragonBots movements. The phone’s camera provides the visual feedback from which the DragonBot learns, and because it’s internet-connected, when one DragonBot learns something, all of the other DragonBots learn it too. Which is, y’know, freakin’ incredible and slightly terrifying? Additionally, you can remove the phone and interact with a virtual, app-based Kombusto, or control him with an Android Tablet.
The DragonBot was not only designed to help kids learn, but to help us learn about the potential of human/robot interactions. Significantly, it’s going to be under $US1,000. Yes, that’s definitely expensive for a kids toy, but for an artificially intelligent, cloud-connected, expressive, learning robot, that’s the bargain of the century. No word on availability yet, but I know one tech-writer who hopes to find one under his Xmas tree. [MIT Media Lab via Spectrum IEEE]