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News International Education Campus Summer
To Teach, or Not to Teach -- RoboThespian Answers the Question
Date: 22/08/2012
One steamy August morning, when Israeli schoolchildren are on summer vacation, a group of grade 5 and 6 students were taught science: by a robot. RoboThespianTM — as its name implies — is an actor robot complete with gestures, facial expressions, and multiple vocal effects. This humanoid robot was purchased by MadaTech — Israel National Museum of Science, Technology and Space from the UK company Engineered Arts Limited, for its 2010 Robot Zoo exhibition.

The experimental live lesson on the topic of levers was given in the framework of a collaborative educational robotics research project between MadaTech and Technion.  The project is conducted by Prof. Igor Verner of the Technion’s Department of Education in Technology and Science and Dr Takuya Hashimoto from the Tokyo University of Science. “We’ve just witnessed one of the first ever formal science lessons given by a robot,” Verner said, as both he and his mechanical engineering colleague from Japan were present at the museum’s purpose-built classroom together with senior personnel from MadaTech and Technion.

Teacher Thespian was backed up in the control room by Verner’s PhD student Alex Polishuk and Niv Krainer, who completed a BSc in Mechanical Engineering and is now a student in the Technion’s Department of Education in Technology and Science. Both are employed at MadaTech.

Polishuk told the group of some dozen science lovers that they were to embark on a special experience: “This will be like a regular lesson, only the classroom and the teacher are special,” he hinted. After Thespian had demonstrated the lever principle and instructed the young students to perform experiments using a lever with weights and complete worksheets, Krainer piqued their curiosity about robotics. “Thespian has 24 degrees of freedom, meaning that 24 different ways can be combined to move its body. The robot is connected to a supply of compressed air which enables the simulation of muscle movement,” he explained.

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