As a parent you probably don’t always have time to entertain your children. One solution to the problem would be to hire a nanny. Another is iPal, the child-sized babysitter robot. With its height of 90 centimeters, big eyes and a tablet attached to its chest, this robot nanny is designed to take adult responsibilities.
The robotic babysitter was developed by Avatar Mind and was introduced at this year’s RoboBusiness. According to its founder Jiping Wang, iPal is able to keep three-to-eight-year-old kids entertained for “a couple of hours” without adult supervision. “It is perfect for the time when children arrive home from school a few hours before their parents get off work” he said. iPal is able to communicate using natural language and can answer questions like “Why is the sun hot?”.
The mechanic babysitter raises concerns regarding the consequences of using robots to raise our children, simultaneously highlighting the debate about the automation of human jobs. Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics and AI at the University of Sheffield, has been questioning robotic nannies since 2008. According to Sharkey, “Robots are a great educational tool for children. It inspires them to learn about science and engineering […] But there are significant dangers in having robots mind our children. They do not have the sensitivity or understanding needed for childcare”. Robot employment to childcare will lead to “a number of severe attachment disorders that could reap havoc in our society”.
The humanoid is similar to Pepper, which was designed as a companion for lonely people. “iPal is not a cold, unfeeling machine, but a great companion for your child” Avatar Mind claimed. “iPal’s emotion management system senses and responds to happiness, depression and loneliness. iPal is happy when your child is happy, and encourages your child when he is sad”.
iPal is already in production in China and the company hopes to expand to the US next year. During the test period in some Chinese homes, Wang said: “80% love it, 15% have no reaction, 5% are scared”. Would you let a robot look after your child?