Kids’ New Companion: The Reading Robot!


Needless to say, technology leaps have become mesmerizing and limitless; while some new technologies seem to be disastrous, others serve as solutions. Yet, one of the most negative impacts of new technology and the spread of social media channels is distraction; it has become very challenging for kids to just sit down alone with a book and get absorbed reading. So, what could motivate kids to read again? Perhaps, a companion robot!

A new study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison highlights the benefits of robots teaching kids to read. It shows that, as they introduced Minnie—a learning companion robot—to middle school students as a reading companion, they became more enthusiastic about reading over a two-week period and they became more attached to the robot and reading as well.

Social Learning

With a companion, kids dig deep and become more enthusiastic about learning. A previous research has shown that students consider reading an isolating activity, which makes them lose interest in it, and that they do better in assignments and activities that they do in pairs. Researchers believe that social learning strengthens interest and motivation, and improves students’ comprehension by distributing the cognitive workload and reinforcing understanding through dialogue, resulting in boosting their interest in learning.

Thus, researchers Joseph Michaelis and Bilge Mutlu believe companion robots like Minnie could soon serve as social learning companions for kids. “After one interaction, the kids were generally telling us that, sure, it was nice to have someone to read with” says Joseph Michaelis, “But by the end of two weeks, they are talking about how the robot was funny, silly, and afraid, and how they had come home looking forward to seeing it again”.

Minnie is Here to Listen

For the study, the students spent two weeks reading out loud to Minnie from a selection of 25 different books. Minnie was programmed to be an interested listener, respond to their reading and the plot of the story with hundreds of pre-recorded comments, and track the students’ progress. Minnie was also able to recommend books to the kids based on an algorithm. Over the course of the study, the kids’ motivation to read increased significantly; most reported that they understood and remembered more about the reading.

The researchers’ goal of this buddy robot is to try to make the reading process as genuinely conversational as possible. They found the result of this study so promising, as they indicated that Minnie encouraged children to spend more time working on sounding out unfamiliar words, and increased their motivation to read with their new companion, instead of giving up or reading alone.


Journal Reference
Joseph E. Michaelis, and Bilge Mutlu. Reading socially: Transforming the in-home reading experience with a learning-companion robot. Science Robotics, 2018 DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aat5999

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