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.

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