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The Robot That Teaches Kids How to Write

The innovation keeps on flowing at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – or EPFL, for short.

Founded by the Swiss government as one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, EPFL has built a strong, well-respected reputation in the technology, science, and engineering areas. It ranked 17th in the world for science and engineering, according to the 2015 QS World University Rankings.

We’ve reported on EPFL’s innovations many times here before. For example, the scientists at an EPFL offshoot called MindMaze have created a device called MindPlayPRO, which can “trick” stroke victims out of paralysis.

And robotic engineers at EPFL were also part of a three-pronged team that gave a Danish man a groundbreaking bionic hand – the first of its kind in the world.

Now, they’ve turned their minds towards helping kids…

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

As you know, reading, writing, and arithmetic are the fundamental basics when it comes to children’s primary education.

EPFL’s new innovation helps them with the second one. Specifically, how to improve their actual handwriting skills.

But it doesn’t work in the way you might think.

Rather than the robot becoming the teacher, the children actually teach the robot. And in doing so, they learn critical skills – both physical and mental.

When it comes to handwriting, the children present the robot with a word.

Using a huge database of handwriting examples and a complex writing algorithm, the CoWriter system allows the robot to recognize that word. It then tries to write it… but with mistakes.

The children can then use what they learn in class to spot the errors and “teach” the robot how to write the word properly.

In the process, the exercise works to improve their own handwriting skills, as well as empowering them and giving them confidence.

EPFL engineer Séverin Lemaignan is one of the researchers behind the project. He explains, “The idea here is to introduce a new role for the robot. The robot is the worst writer in the classroom and for children who face difficulties and were the worst students before, there’s now one who’s even worse than them.”

This is a crucial aspect of a child’s early development, where confidence is key. Studies have shown that children who struggle with writing and get left behind their classmates can become frustrated, lose confidence, and disengage from the process.

But as you can imagine, flipping the status quo so that the student becomes the teacher to the robot could prove both educational and motivational.

Lemaignan continues, “The robot is facing difficulties to write. So the child as a teacher tends to commit itself to helping the robot. This is what we call in psychology the ‘protégé effect’ – the child will try to protect this robot and help him to progress.”

Check it out…


The EPFL team plans more studies with the CoWriter system, in order to further validate the novel concept and expand its reach to more children in the process.


Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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