FLASH Robotics is an innovative startup technology company that is dedicated to enhancing the capabilities of consumer robotics. On February 28, 2017, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their EMYS Robot, which is programmed to teach children how to speak two different languages. Their ultimate goal is to reach $100,000.
EMYS is a newly developed social robot that is shaped somewhat like the popular “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” characters. Since a creature called “emys orbicularis” is the only species of turtle that lives in Poland — the homeland of FLASH Robotics — the name EMYS was granted to their debut robot for kids. It features a unique, mechanoidal shape, three independent discs move when it speaks, and its eyes effectively express a wide range of emotions. Moreover, children can use the modeling clay that comes with the robot to play “dress-up” and give it a tail, cat ears, a beard, and more. After being left out for 24 hours, the clay dries and children can draw, write, or paint on it.
The EMYS concept was first developed in 2009, but its mission was so complicated that it took several prototypes and increasingly advanced versions to be produced before the product was finally deemed suitable for public release. Specifically, programmers at FLASH Robotics concentrated on developing software that enables EMYS to operate autonomously, subsequently becoming a believable companion.
“Society’s fascination with robots largely comes from the unknown and the immense potential robots have,” Michal Dziergwa, the co-founder of FLASH Robotics, explained. “Humans are always more interested in things when there is a portrayal of human emotion or expressions involved, as we can relate to it. When we start to introduce this relatability to technology, our interest is further piqued. It’s quite amazing to see a machine teach us something, express emotions we can understand, or simply interact on an intelligent level.”
The advancements in quality-of-life that technology offers has made it a topic of interest to a large number of people and the entertainment industry — which frequently features robots and/or other tech-savvy machines in their projects — has only driven up interest.
“Perhaps there is a sense of fear in some that robots will replace humans in the future,” Michal continued, “but our goal is to create robots that add to our lives, teach us, and inspire us.”
Whenever the FLASH Robotics team designs a robot, they spent years building and then validating their inventions. With a strong focus on social robots, the inventors have seen the potentials and possibility for robots in studies that have been carried out at the Wrocław University of Technology.
“We firmly believe that the right place for a social robot is at home and so we aim to make them very sociable, expressive, and unique,” Jan Kedzierski, the other co-founder of FLASH Robotics, declared. “We want to create and customize robots that help us integrate robotic technology with a purpose into our daily lives.”
EMYS is a good example of a robot that can be used in everyday life; namely, as a means of educating children. It is a widely-held belief that it is easiest to learn a second language at a young age. While children who grow up in bilingual households have an advantage, those who are not raised in a bilingual household often must take expensive lessons or try to learn from language apps that often lack a suitable engagement factor. As a social robot, EMYS brings a personal element to the process of learning a language—as if you are practicing speaking with a friend rather than a textbook or tablet. EMYS is programmed to use a teaching method known as Total Physical Response (TPR) which enables children to react to language instructor commands with whole-body actions.
As the world becomes increasingly global, it is important for children to be prepared for future challenges and embrace the responsibility of being citizens of the world.
“The ability to speak multiple languages holds a tremendous amount of benefits,” Michal declared. “Learning foreign languages is scientifically proven to improve intelligence, creativity and problem solving skills. Plus, in a world where we are are increasingly becoming more connected, the ability to easily communicate with others across the globe is crucial.”
Provided that they reach their Kickstarter goal, the FASH Robotics team is hopeful that they will be able to further extend what EMYS is capable of and also receive valuable consumer feedback.
“There is still a laborious R&D phase that we have to go through in order to get the robot mechanically and electronically ready for production,” Michal admitted. “Considerable human expertise will also be required in order for us to expand on EMYS’ learning software, so that he can interact with kids in exciting new ways.”
Hence, money from the Kickstarter campaign will be divided up so the company can hire educational consultants, additional tech developers, create a series of accompanying apps, and perfecting both the materials and hardware on the finalized model.
“It’s important to us that we validate our concept by introducing it to real people who have kids of their own whom they want to teach a second language,” said Michal.
Although EMYS is the main focus of much of the FLASH Robotics team at the moment, it is not their first invention. The company is also responsible for creating FLASH, a life-sized social robot that is currently being used for research at the Robotarium laboratory in Edinburgh, Scotland. FLASH can use different voices, speak different languages, recognize and react to commands, connect to and browse the Internet, send emails, check the weather forecast, and use gestures, facial features, and overall body language to express emotions.
“The design of a social robot faces a number of challenges, like consistency of appearance and behavior, perception, interaction and emotional expression,” said Jan. “We’re observing a trend where robotics is coming out of factories and gaining foothold in our houses. In ten years, we don’t think the technology will yet be advanced enough to allow robotics to perform complicated manual tasks at an affordable price. The main challenge is functionality. Today robot creators are figuring out what people really want to get from robots in homes. We think it’s more realistic that home robots a decade from now will perform various assistive roles such as education, schedule management, serving as proxies to various services, etc. Our strong belief is that this will lead to widespread acceptance of such technology in our private spaces and pave way for massive developments in social AI.”
FLASH Robotics remains dedicated to the advancement of educational applications using social robots. The inventors firmly believe that having a device that can form a bond with the user at an emotional level is immensely powerful because it increases engagement and learning efficiency—especially for young audiences. Teaching language is only the beginning. The programmers at FLASH Robotics plan to evolve this method until most subjects can be taught via the use of the robot.
“Creating a social robot is a very long and challenging process,” said Michal. “It requires tight cooperation of many experts starting from psychologists and industrial designing and ending with hardware and software engineers. The most rewarding moment is when we can observe how people interact with our creations and how much personality and intelligence they attribute to them. The fact that they treat a machine as their equal and partner in interaction asserts our belief that technology permits us to create social and expressive robots that can deliver real benefits to our lives. We want our robot to be able to support tutors instead of replacing them. The biggest benefit of our solution is that it can engage children every day in a way that feels like hanging out with their friend. We firmly believe in a world where humans and robots cooperate and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
To learn more, visit the official website of FLASH Robotics.
[Featured Image by Michal Dziergwa/FLASH Robotics]