Hanson Robotics is introducing an educational toy called Professor Einstein. Famous for its high-end commercial robotics, Professor Einstein is the company’s first venture into the consumer electronics market. Professor Einstein is a mere 14.5 inches tall, uses natural language processing and other artificial intelligence capabilities, to comprehend and answer children’s questions about science.
Professor Einstein can work in standalone mode or in conjunction with Hanson Robotics’ Stein-o-Matic app. The app promises to deliver new, interactive content on a daily basis. Professor Einstein is Wi-Fi enabled and compatible with both iOS and Android phones or tablets. It’s powered by rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries.
Early backers can pre-order Professor Einstein via Kickstarter for $249 and its projected final list price is around $269 (link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1240047277/professor-einstein-your-personal-genius). Professor Einstein ships in April. Hanson Robotics has equipped Professor Einstein with original content and a speech processing system, but it can access AI systems like IBM Watson and Microsoft’s Xiaobing chatbot to enable conversation.
In the commercial sector, Hanson Robotics is known for its development of robots with empathy, such as Bina48, a robot introduced by the Elearning! Media Group at ELCE10. However, until Professor Einstein’s appearance, the general public has not been able to purchase the company’s technology. As was shown with Bina48, Hanson Robotics has invented a skin-like material called “frubber,” as well as motors and systems that can imitate all the major facial movements and expressions of a human, and can be run on low power systems. It’s this natural facial movement that makes interfacing with humans more natural.
Andy Rifkin, who is now CTO of Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, is the inventor of Professor Einstein. He previously worked at Time Warner, Mattel, Disney and United Internet Technologies. Andy says he’s positioned Professor Einstein to be used by children who are at least thirteen years old. Hanson Robotics is confident that Einstein’s expressive face will make people more open to learning, questioning and thinking, much as attendees saw with Bina48 as ‘she’ interacted with the audience to answer questions.
If Professor Einstein succeeds, it will be another step in the evolution of educational, robotic toys. The hope is that someday these types of educational toys will make the notion of a “personal tutor” an everyday reality. The science behind that goal comes from Bloomberg’s 1984 study which showed that students, who were provided one-on-one training, outperformed 98% of those students who were trained in the classroom. So Professor Einstein joins the Amazon Echo and Google Home in the race to enable personal tutoring on a massive scale.