In a recent morning at Sparkletots preschool in Singapore, Natalie, Bryan and Mikayle, all four years old, knelt on the floor around a machine called Kibo and “programmed” it with a set of instructions printed on wooden blocks. Each of the blocks was printed with a command — “forward”, “backward”, “shake” — written in English and as a barcode that the robot could understand.
The children started the sequence. Natalie clapped and the others shrieked with delight as the machine wriggled. It had done just what it was programmed to do; hearing the child’s clap triggered its movement. “Again, again,” Natalie and her classmates squealed.
In Singapore, admired globally for its education system, authorities are trialling the use of robotic aides to teachers in kindergartens. Two humanoid robots, Pepper and Nao, assisted teachers in a seven-month trial at two Singapore preschools last year.
Read more: How robots are teaching Singapore’s kids