Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Get to know Engkey and Kibot! South Korea’s Most Famous Education Robots

A smart, high-tech, technical and resourceful classroom; what really constitutes a high-tech classroom? I know when I was in grade school, headphones for every student and a couple computers placed in each classroom was considered to be pretty high-tech. However in the year 2011 in the land of South Korea, high-tech classrooms really have begun to fulfill the image of a geeked-out learning environment

 Tablet PCs equipped in a South Korean classroom
With the announcements of Korean schools trading in their regular textbooks for digital ones, tablet PCs becoming more readily available to students in the classrooms, digital touch screen teaching boards replacing white boards, the most fascinating topic of e-learning catching the attention of many around the globe has to be the robot English teachers.

Hello there “Engkey!”
In late 2010, the South Korean government began to run trial tests, equipping selected classrooms with English robot teachers around the country. The city of Daegu was chosen to host 29 robots in 21 schools to help children learn English. This robot’s name is “Engkey.” Engkey was developed by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and this robot is designed to be a tele-presence tool that brings English teachers located in the Philippines to the schools in South Korea. The instructors in the Philippines communicate using embedded microphones and speakers. And although it is a high-tech robot, the overall body and the CG face has been purposely designed to keep things “low key” in order for the students to feel that Engkey is approachable and not intimidating. Each robot costs around 10 million Korean Won (about 8,700 USD), but officials have hopes to cut the price and make it possible to equip every kindergarten classroom with one of these robots by 2013. 
 The Engkey - Robot English Teacher

With the well received response from the late 2010 tests and the other previously mentioned e-learning objectives from the South Korean government, with only a short test run in late 2010 the government is committed to investing 1 billion Korean Won (about 8.69 million USD) in robot teachers in 2011 alone and the budget is expected to expand to 40 billion Korean Won (about 36 million USD) by 2012. If this new system provides a significant amount of positive results, the government plans on teleporting these robots out into elementary schools as well. 
Beyond the Classroom with “Kibot”
South Korea is also infamous for the high frequency of parent involvement in every step of their child’s learning experience. So it was only a matter of time for the advancements in technologies to provide a means for parents to get more involved with their student’s learning. Kibot is another robot that has been developed by a cooperative effort between one of South Korea’s Telecom Conglomerates, KT Corporations and a leading Korean digital A/V product powerhouse, iRiver (for more info on iRiver and their new buzzed about iRiver Story HD Google ‘s first eBooks-integrated e-reader, refer here: http://www.advancedtechnologykorea.com/?p=6305).
This robot has been designed to teach kids to speak another language while playing with the robot around the house. But unlike the Engkey, the Kibot can be considered to be half tutor and half babysitter! The Kibot is equipped with a face-to-face video function that makes it easy for children and small toddlers to interact with Kibot, but it is also equipped with wireless technology that allows parents to take a peek at their children while they are out! Parents can call into the Kibot and use their smartphone as a remote control, and then move the robot around the house to track down their children and take a look into what they are up to. 
The Kibot
The Kibot has a price tag of 485,00 Korean Won (about 450 USD) and a monthly service fee of 7,000 Korean Won (about 6.5 USD). Let’s take a look at what this robot comes equipped with.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Technology: KT has adapted the RFID method that is normally used in high-tech warehouses to simple cards, so that users will not have to fuss about pressing multiple buttons on the Kibot for operation. These cards are also loaded with data that is made up of words, books and songs.
■ Download Interactive Games: The interactive features of the Kibot are what make this robot appealing to parents. Parents are able to download interactive games and play with their children.
■ Telephone: Children can also call their parents by simplifying tapping a “labeled” card on Kibot’s nose.
■ Barcodes: The Kibot is equipped with IT barcodes that make it possible for the robot to immediately read messages/commands sent to it and take action.
Let’s take a look at Kibot’s features and capabilities in action. Below is a short video clip of the Kibot roaming about at a convention in Korea:


This kind of advanced lifestyle is possible in South Korea because 98% of the Korean homes already have access to a broadband network. Hence Korea being at the top of the world’s most wired countries list. I am excited to see the other advancements with e-learning in Korea and how it will shape today’s generation of learners. I hope that these e-learning tools will be able to provide a more fun and encouraging learning environment for both children and adults.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Microsoft Imagine Cup: Student Coders Compete For World Title

On Sunday night, during the final round announcements at the Imagine Cup World Finals in New York City, the competitors really let loose. They bound into the Broadway Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square wearing bold-colored matching team T-shirts, waving country flags, hooting, high-fiving, back-slapping, and chanting "USA! USA! USA!" or "Le-ba-non! Le-ba-non!" If you ask any of them what if feels like to a be a contender for a 2011 Imagine Cup world title, he or she will probably say it feels like being in the Olympics.
Of course, national pride and competitive spirit aside, the 400 Imagine Cup world competitors have little in common with Olympic athletes. They're university students, competing in events like software design, embedded development, and game design for a chance to win as much as $25,000. (In total, Microsoft will fork out $215,000 in prize money.) Forget javelin throws and triple toe loops. These competitors have mastered the Microsoft XNA Game Studio, the Silverlight plug-in, the Windows Phone 7 and the Windows Azure cloud-hosting platform.
This is the ninth year that Microsoft has organized what it calls "the world's premier student technology competition" and the first year the World Finals have been hosted in the United States. The event is all Microsoft all the time. Competitors wear name tags hung on lanyards printed with the Microsoft logo. They make last-minute fixes to presentations using free laptops installed with Windows and Office. In a lounge overlooking the multistory billboards of Times Square, they can "blow off steam" by playing games on Xbox 360 and Kinect consuls.
The Imagine Cup competition has expanded and morphed significantly since its early days. One thousand students from 25 countries signed up to compete in the first Imagine Cup in 2003 under the theme "Link between people, information, systems, and devices, using Web services and .NET as a springboard." The following year, organizers settled on the more inspirational theme "Imagine a world where smart technology makes everyday life easier" and registered 10,000 students from 90 countries. This year's challenge: "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems." 380,000 students from 184 countries entered.
"That's about the size of the entire IEEE membership!" remarked Jon Rokne, a computer science professor at the University of Calgary and former IEEE board member, who helped judge entries in the software design category this year at the World Finals. "The magnitude of participation is remarkable."
Rokne said he was also impressed by the quality of students' projects. "I've seen 14 out of the 65 [software design projects] and they're all excellent," he said. It was Sunday afternoon, four hours before six finalists in the category were announced.
"Although," he added, "there were three projects that really spoke to me." For example, the three-member team from the tiny Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago developed software that helps teachers customize their methods according to kids' behavior in the classroom. Rokne said he thought that idea was "really cool."
Almost everyone I talked to at the competition had a favorite project or two that they were sure would make the final cut. For instance, Jacqueline Russell, Microsoft's academic lead for Western Europe, told me to keep an eye on the team from Finland, who built a software application that helps parents monitor young children's phone conversations and text messages for evidence of cyber-bullying. "Their user interface looks like a company's solution," she said. "I would buy that for my daughter!"
Rokne acknowledges that for many students, the Imagine Cup is about more than academics. "It enables young people to get together, have an idea, push it forward, and in some cases, have a complete and finished product that can be sold," he said. Last year, for example, a team from the Czech Republic made a mobile application that helps disaster rescue teams navigate and coordinate their efforts. The students are now working with a global non-profit to use their software to help track the spread of cholera in Haiti and monitor earthquake and tsunami damage in Japan.
During the final round announcements, I sat behind a team from Arizona State University in the U.S. whose project, called Note-Taker, I'd heard was particularly compelling. The team leader, David Hayden, is legally blind. He can see, but just barely. It used to be that when a math professor wrote notes on a chalkboard, Hayden had to find each equation with a monocular, then hunch over his notebook and write it down. Find, hunch, write. Find, hunch, write. The method was painfully slow; Hayden couldn't copy down the professor's notes fast enough.
"I had to drop my classes," he said. Frustrated, he built the first prototype of Note-Taker—a tablet PC connected to a motorized camera and installed with software that lets him use half the tablet screen to zoom in on the board and the other half to take notes with a stylus. His team is now on the third prototype of the device, and Hayden has since re-enrolled in and passed all his math courses.
"You once said it saved your math degree," interjects John Black Jr., the team's advisor.
"Yup, and it got me into a PhD program at [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]," Hayden said. In the software design category, Note-Taker was the first finalist announced.
When the announcements ended, there was more chanting, high-fiving, and picture taking as well as some hanging of chins and sympathetic patting of shoulders. As the teams exited the ballroom, the sound system blasted the Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
On Tuesday, the finalists will come back for the last round of presentations. The judges will announce the winners on Wednesday night.
Check out the complete list of Sunday night's finalists here.
To learn more about a specific project, look up the team's video here, where you can also vote in the People's Choice Awards

Baolab Microsystems Develops GPS Sensors Using Simple Manufacturing Processes

Location based services in mobile phones are not new. Many apps and functions come embedded in even the simplest and cheapest cell phones. To enjoy such applications, you do not necessarily require purchasing an iphone. With the latest technologies we can easily track a person, his velocity, his direction of approach and other details. Today’s mobile phones also have sensors integrated in them, which can sense a shake/motion and a mere flick can enable us to control them. Adding or rather improving upon the original sensors, Spain based baolab Microsystems has found out a way to make the sensors cheaper and smaller.

The digital compass sensors built by Baolab work on the principle of Lorentz force. The concept says, that whenever a current is flowing through a conducting material, the magnetic field associated with the system will generate a force. Thinking on the same lines, the developers must have felt that they anyhow want to measure the magnetic field, so why not measure it on the basis of force generated in the process? The idea thus came out to be simple than the conventional GMS system. While the traditional GPS module is manufactured using a process called complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor manufacturing (CMOS manufacturing)The process involves, the use of Hall effect and not the Lorentz force. However, CMOS manufacturing is not as easy as it looks. Though we can make a circuit initially, integrating magnetic field concentrators  externally is a complex job.
Baolab developed a circuit by etching out nanoscale micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) from the conventional chip. the MEMS device has spring suspended aluminum mass . As per the theory just mentioned above, a force produced by current flowing through mass helps in measuring magnetic field. This does not require any magnetic concentrators rather, it avoids such complexities. the device is useful even if the magnetic field associated is very small. Baolab provides us with a set of three such circuits which can easily measure the earth’s magnetic field and its orientation. Moreover, the manufacturing process gives us a cheaper alternative of production of these GPS sensors.
The new method can lead us in simplification of many more complex motion sensor problems and other advance applications. It can also be used in things like running shoes and tennis rackets. Baolab Microsystems is hopeful of bringing this technology in a working mode from next year on wards in all GPS applications.