Monday, December 2, 2019

Making the Case for ROBOTS in K-12 Education

This article was published by K12Digest

Students are eager for high tech classrooms. Is your classroom room ready? Are you?

The transformation of education has never been more dramatic. Every teacher will confess that to succeed in the classroom today means creating an engaging environment, many times on subjects that hold little initial student interest, especially when subjects are competing for a student’s interest when they have immersed themselves in the captivating power of video games, YouTube videos, and social chat groups. Attention spans have never been shorter. The ability of today’s children to multi-process different tasks seems bewildering to many adults.
The current backstory has been the development of curricula for STEM learning. It seems most schools are still struggling to get fully deployed with STEM or what may now be called STEAM programs. The challenge has been fourfold.
First, was the question of what a STEM program should consist of?
Second, how do you define and prepare students for a multi-year curriculum that offers foundational continuity?
Third, how do you prepare and establish qualifications for teachers?
And fourth, is the always overruling constraints of budgets and qualified staff expertise.
Then comes yet another hidden element that always seems to raise its head. Teachers simply don’t have the time to advance themselves in technologies or to fully embrace and put their imaginations to work using the new classroom technologies. Learning and creating take time. This is why through experience we have learned that the best technologies for K-12 STEM programs are responsive to all these real-life challenges. Simply said, classroom technologies today must be engaging, dependable, flexible, and robust at the outset. The adoption and learning curve for teachers using new technologies must be realistically planned, considered and structured. The chasm between schools is significant. I have been to schools that replicate the “Starship Enterprise” with amazing technologies for students to use and see schools that struggle to even have basic internet connectivity. The point is that ‘one-size solutions’ do not fit all situations.
With all the above points considered this is why I have focused on classroom robots as a critical component of STEM programs. Why? The price range of robots for STEM use can fit into almost any budget. Robots can serve in multiple ways. They are engaging. They provide immediate feedback. They can be used to deliver animated educational subject matter presentations. They can be used to advance special educational needs such as working with students diagnosed on the autism spectrum. They can teach new languages. They are tireless and non-judgmental. They can be easily transported from classroom to classroom. They create a sense of excitement and visible accomplishment. Most importantly, robots in education will open the expansive horizons and insights into the future world that today’s students will live in as adults. A world where they cohabitate and collaborate side-by-side with robots at work and in their homes.
Robots in schools also generate an opportunity for students to not only challenge themselves but engage with other schools and groups in robot competitions. There are few topics that generate active participation in the sciences for young women more than robots. Many of today’s newly created robotic companies are now being headed by young women.
Robots are not like most other K-12 classroom technologies that strive to deliver and teach subject matter lessons. Robots serve as a powerful platform for developing a student’s own innovation and creativity. Working and learning with robots challenge students to bring into play the thinking about a variety of disciplines such as programming, math, engineering, physics and geometry needed to accomplish a robotic construct or a robot behavior animation. More recently students of the arts have begun adopting robots to perform ‘robot theater plays’, dance routines and to present stories or poems that they have authored. So here we see the convergence of ‘science and the arts’ (STEAM)in full bloom.
It is clear, that when positioned correctly, robots are at their best when they are used as a teacher’s assistant or a tool for learning and not deemed to be a replacement for the teacher. Maybe that day will come, with the advance of artificial intelligence and robot emotional recognition capabilities, but for now, robots are captivating and engaging students worldwide and for a reason. Today’s robot platforms and technologies put every classroom in reach of the ultimate goal, making learning fun, productive and rewarding.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Why Every NAO Robot Needs a ZORA.

Why Every NAO Robot Needs A ZORA!
My 6 Experienced-based Reasons Why NAO Robot Users Are Excited About ZORA Software and ZoraBots

With years of experience reviewing, evaluating and testing many, many robot models and types and the behavior software associated with them, it is clear that Zora Software designed to drive the NAO robot is innovative, unique, comprehensive and best-in-class.
While we are excited about the Zora Software platform, especially when packaged with the NAO robot to form a ZoraBot, so are NAO Robot users!  

I believe it is best to let those users comment on why. I provide the following collected comments:
 “I am a teacher in special education in elementary school. I don’t have the time or the technical know-how to do deep-dive robot behavior development. I tried Choreographe but never was able to get productive. With the ZORA composer, I finally have a solution that is fast and easy.”

“I move my NAO robot to many different locations for many different purposes. It was always a “WiFi” connectivity and stability nightmare. With the ZORA secure ‘hotspot’ feature my connection problems are gone. Turn on the robot with ZORA and I am ready to go! Thank you!”

“Please know that I totally enjoy the scope of the ZORA behavior library. The pre-programmed behaviors seem to cover all my needs. What was a challenge to make the NAO robot do what I needed, I am now always one click away to making my vision happen. Keep those behaviors coming, please.”

“I used to only let the robot stand or sit. With the ZORA movement controller, I can drive the robot around the room or stage, it brings a new level of engagement to the time spent with NAO.”

“My NAO was sitting idle since the previous user moved to a new department. ZORA brought that NAO back to ‘active duty’! The little bot is an active part of the team now!”

While ZORA features are extensive, I share my own 6 key favorite features that experience has taught me as to why every NAO needs a ZORA. They are:
Turn on the NAO robot with ZORA and you are immediately ready to go with its own “HOTSPOT WiFi”. No need to spend time locating and configuring the proper WiFi for robot connectivity. For those of you that use NAO in multiple locations, this is an ideal ease of use feature. And, no need to seek the permissions of WiFi access in secure areas like schools and hospitals.

The ‘drag and drop’ behavior composer’. Simply drag the desired robot action ‘object icon’ onto a time-line player palate and you can compose your own custom robot behaviors. No need to spend time connecting and testing often confusing and conflicting boxes and arrows. The in-depth library of available ready-made behavior icons makes interacting with NAO and creating custom behaviors truly fun, efficient and a transforming experience.

A library of over 70+ pre-programed stories, dances, quizzes, and exercise routines provide a powerful inventory of robot behaviors for most every occasion. Always be ready with Zora.

Movement control. Zora’s on-screen robot navigation controller brings real-life movement to your fingertips. Using this controller, you can easily have NAO walk on-stage, enter a classroom or move about a trade show booth. No longer is NAO limited to sitting or standing in one place With ZORA NAO becomes an animated and active participant in your event!

Language to language translations. Type in one language and have NAO speak the phrase in another. Let your imagination contemplate the possibilities.
Perhaps my favorite feature is the ZORA PowerPoint presenter. I use it all the time to demonstrate the power of ZORA. Create your PowerPoint and in the ‘notes’ field for each slide simply type what you want NAO to say. Turn on the NAO PowerPoint function and run the “slideshow”. NAO will deliver the presentation and advance to the appropriate slide on cue! Use this ZORA feature for engaging business presentations and in-classroom educational presentations!

While making our customers excited, pleased and happy I like ZORA for one more critical reason. Now in its 9th version, it really works!

Such is the power of ZORA now working in pediatric hospitals, libraries, schools, elder care facilities, and retail! You can visit to learn more about ZORA software or about the ZoraBot combination.
NAO is a product of SoftBank Robotics. Zora is a product of ZoraBots.

Mike Radice is Chairman of the Technology Advisory for ChartaCloud ROBOTTECA.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Why I say, “The NAO Robot More Than Ever!”

 After almost five years of experience in assessing multiple robots, I remain convinced that the NAO Humanoid Robot is in a class by itself. As a matter of fact, I believe that the NAO robot has risen to a new plateau where it rises and stands alone (no pun intended) and is now even more functional and versatile. Be assured that this is not just my own myopic opinion. With others, I have assessed many, many robots to see if they can surpass NAO. The phenomenon of NAO’s continues and its adoption and its ever-expanding functionality can be evidenced by the interactions that I have with users and developers worldwide.
A picture containing indoor, wall, bathroom, toilet

Description automatically generatedInitially, NAO was a first mover in humanoid robots, especially for the university research community. They adopted, applied and used NAO to discover the interaction between humans and robots and, it continues to be adopted for use in even more leading-edge research. It is my belief that the continued evolution of NAO in the research community is now being driven not alone by its marvelous engineering and software functionality but more by the growing discoveries about the nature of human-robot interaction (HRI). What do you want the robot to do and how should it react? NAO fits supremely well into research models demanding a full-bodied construct facilitated by its humanoid (human-like form and degrees of movement freedom) capacities. I clearly see that NAO is now being driven evermore by its ability to incorporate, interact and respond using the emerging wave of integrated artificial intelligence (AI) software schema. I have seen NAO engage in AI-powered conversational dialogues to help learn a new language, connect to IBM’s WATSON and even read postings on a whiteboard in a hospital nursing ward to aid in decision making.
The more exciting observation is that NAO and its global application developers have enabled NAO to assert its prominence by delivering practical, real-world use cases.  It is a new era for NAO. The previous era was characterized by the dialogue that earlier surrounded NAO. “OK, I see it. But, what does it do?”. This new era demonstrates that answers to that question can be found in innovative NAO behavior applications that are actually being used today in autism behavior interventions, assisted medical care in pediatric hospitals, delivering uplifting social engagement in skilled nursing facilities that help reduce the trauma of isolation, in libraries advancing community digital literacy, in schools advancing STEM robotics programs, in classrooms engaging students in new subjects, even explaining art in an art retail showroom. A new era for sure. Now comes NAO as a powerful stand-alone presenter of custom PowerPoint educational presentations and AI-powered new language instruction. These are examples of the growing number answers to the question author Steven Wasic proffered in 2010 (SinglularityHUB Jan 5, 2010): “What will be the killer APP for NAO?” If I understand the question correctly, that question has now been answered. Many times, over.
I was originally moved by the NAO intro video” The Future is NAO”
Great never gets old! Inspiring never gets tiring! The “Future is NAO” is more prophetic today than even when it was introduced.
Underlying it all is, of course, the fact that NAO has proven its position as the true humanoid leader but even more so in the face of so many recent failures in robot attempts. NAO endures as an industrial-grade product. NAO’s caretaking development engineers at SoftBank Robotics working in design, software, and hardware continue to advance the NAO humanoid platform with ever-increasing and amazing version enhancements that are now in its sixth evolution.
While it is always interesting to see a robot deliver hamburgers and another clean windows it is more rewarding and I find it more meaningful, to see children on the autism spectrum positively engage and socially progress, to see children in hospitals feel less pain and anxiety and to see the elderly in an elder-care facilities exercise, laugh and want to take NAO for a walk! Having a mother write to me that NAO helped rediscover her son who was fast fading due to autism and to see a child let himself down out of his wheelchair to the surprise of everyone in order to have his picture taken with NAO are examples of why I say “NAO more than ever!”.

Mike Radice is Chairman of the Technology Advisory for ChartaCloud ROBOTTECA. Comments:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

What is Actually Happening with Humanoid Robots Inside Today’s Libraries!

 While there is a lot of justifiable discussion about the challenges of a future world where we cohabitate with robots, one thing is clear – positive robot driven outcomes are being achieved. It seems every day we see a new leap forward in robot construct, artificial intelligence, machine learning, object manipulation and facial and emotional visual recognition being exhibited in and by robots. As someone who is immersed in the world of social robots and robot process automation, the pace of innovation I see almost daily is staggering.

Equally wondrous in today’s world of socially assistive robots is the creative ways they are being adopted and used. That too takes imagination. Use cases are now rapidly expanding beyond proto-typical research and development. Real-world uses are being substantiated and legitimized.

When most people first encounter a social robot their most prevalent question is “what can it do?”. Many times, the environment offers a suggestive clue as to what it should do and sets expectations. Encounter a robot behind the concierge desk in a hotel lobby and you expect that it can make dinner reservations, get your tickets to a play or schedule a golf tee time. This is happening. Encounter a robot in a retail cosmetics store and you would expect cosmetic advice based on its perception of your style and ‘facial’ attribute composition. That’s happening.  Encounter a robot in an art gallery and you would expect expert advice and counsel on the art pieces being displayed. This too is happening.

So, what about humanoid robots in libraries?

Libraries have long been a source of books, magazines, newspapers and digital media. At a higher level, they were a revered place to discover and learn, foster community engagement, and serve as a reflection of community pride.

As Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying “The only thing you really need to know is where the library is.”

Humanoid Robot can:

·         Speak in 20 Languages
·         Tell Stories
·         Play Games
·         Interact with Quizzes
·         Present Information
·         Teach Robotics

There are over 120,000 libraries serving communities across America. Advances in digital technology’s access to printed materials have challenged libraries as a primary source when seeking information and knowledge contained in printed materials. It was not that long ago that libraries were being written off as not having a very bright future. That has rapidly changed. For those of us that frequent libraries, we know that they are redefining and transforming themselves for the new era. Their major redefinition is capitalizing on their unique standing in the community. Today, more than ever they serve as a focal point, as a hub, for generating new learning experiences. They were always the place where you could go to introduce children to the wonder of books and the adventure of stories. They were always a place where an experienced librarian could help by suggesting a new track of research or discovery. And, libraries were a place that always seemed to offer an opportunity to the encounter and understand new things.

Facing the transformative impacts of the digital era, libraries have well recognized the need to rise to the challenge by adopting and integrating the advances of modern technologies that enable them to capitalize on their unique position in the community, revitalize the persona and brand image of the library to that of a new age knowledge-based institution, one that provides their communities with modern, vital and expedient resources for access to knowledge and information, discovery events, learning experiences, and innovation.
Is it any surprise then that as Lorretta Waldman reported in the Wall Street Journal Coming Soon to the Library: Humanoid Robots” that we are seeing them show up?

Innovations in technology and concepts for conducting programs of engagement and discovery at libraries have now brought together humanoid robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. These humanoid robots now provide enhanced discovery ‘interfaces’ to your library’s printed and recorded materials via robot-based interactions and with robot-centric events like storytelling, language training and educational programs for all ages.
Imaginative uses continuously get better. As a provider of socially assistive robots for libraries, I have first-hand experience watching a NAO humanoid robot arrive in a community library and almost instantly they have an exciting and engaging community-wide digital literacy program underway. Library traffic and value perception of the library went way up with 100’s of new visitors and an increase in robot-based event fundraising!

Photo Credit: Palo Alto Library
A single humanoid robot can engage multiple audiences
and respond to multiple missions.

In another library, the robot was positioned as a resource for the local school such that students can do their STEM robotics programming assignments at home or in school and then come to the library to test them out on an actual humanoid robot.

Photo Credit: ERM Robotique / Avatarion

Parents that have children diagnosed on the autism spectrum can now go to the library to use the robot to do their own ABA/pivotal response training and social and learning skills development exercises and interventions with their children.

Art groups in another library are planning to conduct robot performances.

The library-based robot quickly becomes a knowledgeable ambassador and spokesperson, an information resource, and a presenter for special community educational events. So, yes, this too is happening, and it is engaging, exciting and transformative.

The advances in humanoid robots driven by machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), natural language programming (NLP)and human robot interfaces (HRI) will continue and the next time you go to the library don’t be surprised if you encounter a humanoid robot that says “Hi There! And ask, “Have you seen the new book on augmented reality?”

The bottom line is that today’s library is not your grandmother’s library anymore, unless of course, your Grandmother is the librarian!

Michael D. Radice is Chairman of the Technology Advisory Board for ChartaCloud, and | e-mail: NAO is a product of SoftBank Robotics.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Two Observations Impacting Robot-mediated Behavior Intervention Therapy in autism

Two Discoveries Are Impacting Robot-mediated Behavior Intervention in autism Therapy
Like any new advance into an emerging discipline, there are unexpected discoveries. I have been studying the elements of robot-based, mediated intervention therapy to try and understand and discover the why? What works and what doesn’t.
Let’s set the stage. What is robot-mediated behavior intervention? It is the use of robots as an assistive technology in delivering autism intervention therapies. This further means, that robots are used to engage, present and deliver robot executed behavior therapy routines presented by the robot to those diagnosed on the autism spectrum. These routines address defined and targeted aspects of social interactions and learning skills development. Robots are particularly well suited to the task. In the general case, robots are engaging, they don’t tire, they don’t get off track, they don’t emit frustrations and they are not prone to giving off facial or verbal stimuli that can be perceived and thus received as upsetting. In summary, they are typically found to be non-threatening. Multiple University based research programs attests to these attributes. And, they can be programmed to embrace ABA and EBP guidelines. But seemingly more is going on.

There are two elements that are coming into focus.

First, in a typical therapy session usually conducted at the outset in an environment somewhat uncomfortable to a child, there is the distraction of an unfamiliar environment, new faces, ‘clipboards’, clocks, image cards, and therapist interactions, etc. used to facilitate the therapy. What I am seeing is that when a robot is introduced and utilized there seems to be an unlocking, an establishment of ‘engagement’ facilitated by the robot with the therapist now viewed as a friend and partner in the exercise. Kind of like “we are doing this together”. I would postulate that the therapeutic environment shifts from one of being ‘I am a target’ to that of a social exercise engaged with a friend.

Second, and I know this will seem as heresy, but most robots attempt to present a ‘face’ through which emotional expressions are conveyed in an attempt to mimic human social interactions. In and of itself, not a bad idea. However, recent research has pointed to a factor that I always wondered about. Why are some robots seemingly more engaging than others. We see attempts at using robot models that project faces that are cartoon-like, animal-like, computer screen like, puppet-like, used to crack the child engagement barrier. But as I mentioned University research has postulated that in many children diagnosed on the spectrum there is a delay between what is seen and what is being heard. The experience of watching these robots is like watching a T.V. show where the voice is not in sync with the image being projected. (See: The Journal of Neuroscience/ Vanderbilt Study). Animal based robots help alleviate some of this ‘unsycronization’. I now believe this is why I have always been biased to the NAO robot’s interactions in robot mediated behavior interventions. The NAO has no moving ‘lips’ or ‘facial’ expressions. The child only hears and does not have to mitigate the synchronization.

Put these two concepts together and I sense a combination that has impact and traction. I know this will be challenged by some and maybe even many but based upon my practical, field-based experience I am comfortable that both concepts have merit. I will let formally trained researchers solve for a ’proof’.

With Stanford Researchers recently noting that there is an average wait time for an autism specialist of 18 months and the cost of therapy per child per year is estimated at $40-60 thousand dollars, I just want to help these children, young adults, and their families. Robots can help and be positively utilized to be assistive in this challenge.

Michael D. Radice is Chairman of the Technology Advisory Board for ChartaCloud Technologies, ChartaCloud Robotics, and  

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The True Heroes of Socially Assistive Robotics

As I meet the many individuals in my robot travels and demonstrations, the persistent question of those who encounter robots is often: “What does this robot do?” Admittedly, a reasonable question to ask. Even in the professional robotics community there is the constant search for: “What are specific use case examples for this robot”?
The answer is that socially assistive robots, in truth their developers, have achieved the next plateau, and are providing demonstrable answers to both of those questions. We can now clearly see that socially assistive robots are providing impactful assistive solutions in autism therapy, pediatric hospitals, elder care, and special needs education to cite a few of the leading use cases. I state ‘assistive solutions’ for a reason. Robots in these disciplines are not intended to replace humans but work as assistive resources that first, enhances the delivery of services, whether it be therapeutic services in autism, exciting and engaging students in the classroom learning experience, creating transformative social experiences and stimulating cognitive engagement for the elderly in skilled nursing facilities. Second, expanding the resources available to those who work in these disciplines, such that they, as professionals, can do more, make a greater difference, and improve upon the resulting success of the targeted benefits.
Multiple University based research has long identified and pointed to the potential of socially assistive robots. And, their ground-breaking research efforts surely are to be recognized and applauded. The potential they envisioned is now being realized. I assure you, that those of us engaged in this arena understand that there is yet much more research yet to do.
But who are the real heroes of this journey marching on to the new horizons of benefits that socially assistive robots can offer? Surely, the engineers, software developers, and researchers would be among the first on that list, however, in my opinion, it is those individuals who contemplate a vision and take the leap to apply socially assistive robots, actually test them, and offer advice based on their experiences using socially assistive robotics in real life situations. They are the truly brave ones who forge the new frontiers, blazing and demonstrating a path for themselves and most importantly their patients, the elderly, the students and the parents that they strive to serve. Without them, the translation of the vision of socially assistive robots in actual practice would not be made possible. There is a difference between research lab theory and real-world applied use.
A few examples of the heroes I have encountered:
An Elementary school teacher who teaches students in a special needs school adopted a socially assistive robot to aid in skills development for almost 100 children with autism. Her weekly schedule of interactions with these children has yielded demonstrable improvements in many of these children’s coping and learning skills. These robot-based mediated intervention sessions have become not only a source of excitement for the children but her detailed session observations have led to the development of autism applications that are even more impactful and beneficial.
A technology specialist at another school created a library of learning sessions that advance the education of special needs students by way of utilizing robot-based learning events that transform conventional lectures into highly interactive, robot led engagement sessions. This teacher’s vision of robot led learning programs have become legendary in the school with students wanting to do them over and over again.
A Librarian in a public library had the vision of enhancing their community’s digital literacy program by adding a robot to their ‘makerspace’ resource. Following the announcement of the robot’s availability to the community, library visits increased by over 700 visits.
A developer had the vision of using the robot to help reduce the pain and anxiety experienced by children facing medical procedures in pediatric hospitals. Working with the child life specialist team in a local hospital they conducted a clinical study and attested to ‘an up to 50%’ reduction in a child’s pain and anxiety.
Without heroes like them, those of us who serve as intermediaries in this effort would be stalled at that final moment of truth. Does what we offer in socially assistive robots actually make a difference? Can socially assistive robots be used in real life situations? Will someone try and use them? Thankfully, due to their vision and courage, the answer is yes. For their cooperation and collaboration, the world will be and should be thankful. They are making a real difference.

Michael Radice is the Chairman of the Technology Advisory Board for ChartaCloud Technologies, and

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Six Reasons Why and When I Would Want an In-home Robot?

I continue to read and hear about the forecasts regarding the future adoption and use of social and collaborative robots in the home.  That ‘someday’ they will do ‘this’, or, provide ‘such and such’, all of which sounds very exciting and enticing.

But the fundamental question remains: “Why do I even want, let alone need an in-home robot?”
Setting the entire cost/price/value discussion aside for the moment, I suppose that there are a series of easy potential cultural and social answers.

Such as:
I enjoy technology in any form or fashion.
I think it adds a dimension of convenience.
It makes me feel not alone, more secure.

I am not insensitive to the needs for smarter assisted living technologies for the elderly. However, in this instance, I am addressing the demand from the general population.

In the past I easily understood the need for robots. We already have robots to wash dishes, wash clothes, dry clothes, vacuum, cut grass and plow snow. On reflection, I recall that I didn’t know why I would want a microwave oven when it was first introduced but I do now. But it took a while.
Reflect upon that today, a robot enters the “smart home scene” already preceded and surrounded by ‘voice-activated info boxes’, smart TV screens, security cameras, smart doorbells, mobile smartphones, mobile computer tablets. What would a robot uniquely add to this mixture? 

Essentially, it seems to me that the robot would need to be more than a computer tablet on wheels. Although, that might even prove convenient to some for the robot to hold the tablet, carry it and follow them around.

However, to add a new dimension to the existing ‘smart home’ equation, six robot functions come to mind. It would need to:

1. Be drivable around the house from a remote location.
2. Come and find you when something needs to happen or has happened.
3. Be able to go find and fetch things.
4.  Have a storage compartment to store and carry things.
5. Have a common base platform with interchangeable components so as to be re-configurable for different in home purposes.
6. Interact/integrate with any of the ‘smart-devices’ already in place.
If these conditions were met, I believe many people would be inclined to add an in-home robot. Would you?
Have additional ideas on what would motivate you to buy an in-home robot? Do let me know at Mike is Chairman of the Technology Advisory Board at ChartaCloud.