2018-08-01 / Columns

Kids as young as four can interact with Loopy the robot

COMPUSCHMOOZE
STEVE LUBETKIN

Professor Pramod Abichandani always had a passion for robotics, and shortly after he got his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Drexel University, he was looking for a way to make robots easier to set up and use.

“It was hard to find something that was up and running,” he said in a recent interview. “It was always, like, build these Lego kits with all these parts, and then try to program them. Couple that with the fact that I was teaching students robotics when they were not at all prepared for it coming in, and we said, why don’t we build something that is code-able, works right out of the box?”

That was the birth of Abichandani’s company, LocoRobo Innovations (locorobo.co, not dotcom), which is focused on building robots that are easy to use in K-12 classes where teachers have limited expertise in robotics but can help students learn principles of programming using the simple robots.

The company just completed a successful KickStarter campaign to fund the production of My Loopy, a three-inch tall robot with a backstory and a personality (he’s from the planet “Loopitron”). The toy is aimed at children as young as four years.

Created by the scientists at LocoRobo, Loopy uses eight different sensors (light, tilt, motion, touch, temperature, proximity, gesture and sound) and artificial intelligence to engage kids through imaginative visual and auditory play. Loopy’s artificial intelligence technology allows him to grow and create new play patterns as he interacts with his human buddy.

Loopy can also play five games that are unlocked in the course of navigating different levels of capability. “It’s actually a robot that sits next to them,” Abichandani said. “It is called a social robot. It has emotion and it has the ability to interact with a kid, using human-like cues and human life interactions.”

Red, blue, and green LEDs in the robot’s head can generate millions of color patterns, and create 24 different facial expressions, Abichandani said. About 250 phrases are stored in the robot and can be triggered even if Loopy isn’t connected to the Internet, giving it about 10,000 possible combinations of moods and expressions, he said.

Loopy responds to his environment in real time, the company says. According to Loopy’s press materials, if you turn off the lights, Loopy might go to sleep or say, “Let’s partyyyyyyyyyyy!” A loud noise might scare him, or he might complain about the temperature.

With more than 150 jokes and quirky responses, you never know if he’ll greet you with “I missed you so much!” or “What do ya want? I’m kinda busy here!”

And the robot can become the centerpiece of a wide range of class activities, said Abichandani.

“It learns a little bit about user interaction, and based on that, it tweaks some of the games, some of the things that it says,” he explained.

The robot has been field tested with a dozen schools, he said. Expect to see Loopy siblings in the near future, Abichandani hints.

Do you have any recent encounters with robots or artificial intelligence? Email me at steve@compuschmooze.com, or follow me on Twitter @PodcastSteve. 

Return to top