The three-foot tall robot with “wide eyes, working fingers, pastel trimming, and a touchscreen tablet on its chest” showed off its babysitting skills at an annual robotics event in San Jose, California, the Guardian reported. The iPal is designed to act like a companion for children: the robot talks to them, answering general-knowledge questions like “Why is the sun hot?,” and entertaining them with song, dance, and games, such as rock-paper-scissors.
Jiping Wang, founder of Avatar Mind, which created the iPal, told the Guardian that the robot can keep children between the ages of 3 and 8 occupied for “a couple of hours” without adult supervision, touting it as a perfect solution to fill the time between when children return home from school and when parents get back from work.
Madeline Duva, an adviser to Avatar Mind, clarified that “it cannot replace a babysitter.” But, she said, in cases where you do need to occupy a child for a brief period while you, say, run to the store for some laundry detergent, the iPal is better than devices like the iPad, which are far less interactive than the robot. “IPal is happy when your child is happy, and encourages your child when he is sad,” the makers claim on their website.
But no one should confuse the iPal for a replacement for a real human parent, babysitter, or teacher. Researchers from University of Lisbon say that kids need human role models to help them develop cultural values, master a sense of morality, and integrate socially-accepted patterns of behavior—abilities robots don’t yet have.
The robot essentially serves as a glorified baby monitor and that’s perhaps its most useful feature: it not only keeps children engaged, but gives parents the power to check on children remotely and even video chat with them through the tablet embedded in the iPal’s chest, which runs Android applications. In the future, the robot could provide a convenient lens for caregivers to look over children with special needs or the aging elderly population at times when they cannot be physically present.
The iPal is already in production in China and will be available for purchase there by the end of the year (prices haven’t been published yet). The creators hope to introduce it in the US market by next year.