This adorable robo-tortoise teaches kids that beating up robots isn’t okay

Kids can be pretty mean — and that goes for their treatment of robots just as much as it does siblings and classmates. But an unusual new robotics project may be able to help. “Shelly” is a robotic tortoise developed by engineers from South Korea’s Naver Labs and Seoul National University. The difference between Shelly and other kinds of bots some of you may have had in the classroom is that this one shows emotional feedback based on how it’s treated.

Stroke the robotic reptile’s embedded LED surface, which is equipped with vibration sensors that can detect touch, and Shelly will wiggle her head and limbs. Her shell also lights up with different colors. Hit, kick, or drop Shelly, however, and her head will retract inside her body as if she’s frightened. This will also temporarily disable her lights. She’ll remain in this state for 14 seconds before she’ll once again respond to the children around her.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of Paro, the therapeutic robot seal, which also modifies its emotional state depending on how it is touched. In the case of Shelly, though, the purpose is explicitly to teach children that they should not abuse robots.

Naver Labs
Naver Labs

With that in mind, the researchers explored the optimal length of time for her “disabled” state to continue. When it was halved from 14 to 7 seconds, the researchers found that kids were more likely to abuse Shelly, since the duration of the non-playable phase was not long enough to act as a deterrent. When increased to 28 seconds, the kids lost interest in the game.

It’s an intriguing project, and one which will be even more applicable to today’s generation of kids — who will grow up interacting with once-unimaginable numbers of robots in the home, classroom and, eventually, the workplace. Imbuing the proper treatment of robots (something that even some adults don’t practice) is therefore essential.

Hey, when Skynet takes over, nobody wants to be singled out as the kid who lay a beating on its robot vacuum cleaner cousin!

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