July 13, 2011,— -- A robot designed to teach kids to speak another language won't take no for an answer in any language. If left alone, it starts moving around the house looking for the kids and bugs them to play.
The Kibot is designed to be part tutor and part babysitter for South Korea's hard working parents who are intent on making sure their children grow up bilingual in a country where English has become a prerequisite for admission at prominent private schools.
The Kibot, built Korean telecom giant KT Corp., is perfect for Gina Kim, 36, a working mom who puts in a 12 hours a day and sometimes on Saturday. The grueling work schedule makes it hard for her to spend time with her two toddlers Joy, 4 and Juwon, 1.
For many Korean parents in Gina's tech-savvy generation, a new intelligent robot for toddlers is worth the hefty price of $450.
"We've tried all interactive educational toys, but this one actually initiates interaction both in Korean and in English," said husband Yun Chung, 38, who prides himself as an early adaptor of new technologies.
The foot-tall monkey-faced Kibot reads, sings, and teaches in multi-languages. When left alone for some time it strolls around the house by itself searching for the children and starts conversations with them, and asks to be played with.
Kibot's big breakthrough is that the robot is a wired communicating device, connected through wi-fi at home at all times.
Kibot Bugs Kids to Learn
Its face-to-face video phone function is designed to make it easy enough for toddlers to operate and from the parents' side, the robot could be controlled from a smartphone by calling in.
Unlike other webcams or CCTVs on where the cameras are installed in a fixed place, Kim calls into her Kibot and uses her smartphone as a remote control. She then can move the robot around the house to actually go search for the kids.
"We trust our babysitter, but sometimes it's much better to have someone or something else monitoring my babies. In that sense, this remote feature makes me feel hands on, connected all the time," said Kim.
When she has a few spare moments at the office, Kim can remotely download new interactive games and play with the kids.
Joy can also video call her mother by simply tapping a "mommy" card on Kibot's nose. The cards include data filled with words, books, and songs.
They are equipped with intelligent barcodes which makes it possible for the robot to instantly recognize the message and take action.
"We've adapted this RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology normally used in high-tech systemized warehouses to simple cards so that the user won't have to press multiple complicated buttons to operate," said Kyung-Ho Kim, assistant manager at Korea Telecom's Service of International Protocol division.
Plenty of educational programs are wirelessly downloadable and there's no synchronizing involved.
All this is possible because 98 percent of Korean homes have broadband access, which puts South Korea on top of the world's most wired countries list.
The cutting-edge robot is priced at 485,000 won (US $450) with a monthly service fee of 7,000 won (USD $6.5).