Arnoud van den Heuvel
March 14th 2011

Say hello to teacher Engkey!

The city of Daegu — South Korea, introduced 29 robot teachers in 19 elementary schools as part of a large scale project to robotize teaching. The ambitious effort envisioned robots in all 8,400 kindergartens in Korea by 2013. Source: Tim Hornyak for

Kids at Hakjung Elementary School seemed thrilled to interact with robots like the globular Engkey. It’s about 3.2 feet tall and rolls around the classroom on wheels, asking questions in English and dancing to music.

Developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) at a cost of some $1.39 million, Engkey is a telepresence bot, controlled by teachers in the Philippines. It has two-way video and audio for interaction with students, and can move its arms around to make a point. The LED shows the teacher’s face or an animated CG face.

The machines will mostly be used in after-school programs as they can only handle about eight kids at a time. Last month, however, TIME magazine suggested the machines may threaten the jobs of some of the 20,000 to 30,000 foreign English teachers in Korea.

“We will continue to study to improve its teaching ability until it’s very close to that of real human teachers,” Kim Mun-sang of KIST was quoted as saying by the Korea JoongAng Daily.

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