Canadore Tech Talk – Canadore College using social robots as educational tools
May 3, 2022 | Denis Dubois and Cindy Males
When you hear the names Mork and Mindy, many will think of the late 1970s sitcom starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. However, at Canadore College, the two names belong to a pair of AvatarMind iPal social robots being used as tools for newly developed programs and education opportunities.
Manufactured by AvatarMind, these humanoid robots are specifically designed for senior care, retail/hospitality, and children’s education. Standing at 3.5 feet tall, the robots have Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities to communicate with a controlling tablet to enhance their functionality.
Students in the mental health and addictions, social service worker, and collaborative nursing programs are learning how to utilize the robots, and will create programs and activities for seniors.
A digital literacy program for seniors being held at The Village, Canadore’s health and wellness facility, provides an opportunity for seniors to bring in any technology they have at home to become more familiar with it. The program also provides additional opportunities for seniors to be introduced to technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) by interacting with the robots and virtual reality (VR) with the Oculus Go, a stand-alone VR headset which enables the participant to experience virtual worlds.
The social robots can provide companionship to help reduce seniors’ loneliness. “It’s marvelous to communicate and share feelings,” said Cheryl Holzhausen, a senior who participates in the Technology Tuesday program and looks forward to interacting with Mork or Mindy. “It’s good for conversation and interaction, and I like his smile,” she said, referring to the facial animation the robot displays to represent human emotion.
Kelsey Lecappelain, Senior Inclusion Lead with The Village Collective Impact Project, explains: “The study is to see if interaction with robots will decrease loneliness and social isolation, and improve life satisfaction with seniors. These are the three measures we are looking at.”
The iPal is not an autonomous robot. It needs human control to operate, so it is not about to take over the world. However, it is ready to play games, sing and dance, and tell stories; all features the seniors will appreciate and enjoy.