The last few robot dragons that we've been introduced to have done a pretty good job living up to that whole "dragon" mythos, being giant and dangerous and potentially scary. But dragons can also be cute and fuzzy and cuddly, and researchers at Northeastern University, Harvard, and MIT have gotten together and invented a little robot dragon designed to appeal to preschoolers. Fans of celebrity roboticists might recognize MIT's Cynthia Breazeal in the above picture on the far left; also in the pic are David DeSteno from Northeastern (right) and Paul Harris from Harvard (far right).
The robot they're all fawning over is, believe it or not, a descendant of Nexi, MIT Media Lab’s small humanoid. As you can see, it's a robotic dragon, called (as far as I can tell) "dragon robot." The relation to Nexi comes in the form of research by Northeastern's Social Emotions Group, showing that things like eyes and movements have a very significant impact on how people relate to robots, especially when it comes to trust and communication in learning environments. DeSteno, an associate professor of psychology at Northeastern, explains:
“Certain non-verbal cues like mimicking behavior to improve rapport and social bonding, or changes in gaze direction to guide shared attention, are central. When kids learn from human teachers, these cues enhance the learning. We’re designing our new dragon robots to be able to have these capabilities.”
Specifically, the dragon robot is designed to teach preschoolers language skills. It's furry, extremely emotive, and the intention is that kids will be able to develop an emotional connection with it. And when they trust the robot like they would something that's actually alive, it'll be a much more effective teacher.
At this stage, the dragon robots are going to undergo some preliminary testing with preschoolers at MIT. Once the researchers figure out what social cues are the most crucial to developing those emotional bonds, the robots will venture out into the world as distance-learning tools to help kids in rural areas learn their shapes, colors, numbers, and fantasy animals.