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EngKey English Tutorbot Shows Up On Video

It appears that Korea’s latest telepresence tutor robot, EngKey (short for English Jockey), is the last stop gap before human English teachers are eliminated from Korean classrooms altogether.  Though EngKey does allow human teachers to interact with students over long distances through a live two-way video feed, the end goal is to eliminate the need for them, as hinted by the animated on-screen avatar.

Choi Mun-taek, a team leader at KIST’s Center for Intelligent Robotics, says the robot “will be able to replace native English speakers in 3 to 5 years.”  That may prove rather optimistic, given the software’s inability to deviate from scripted lessons.  If, for example, a student answers the robot’s questions differently than the dialog displayed, the robot can’t establish if the child’s grammar and pronunciation were perfectly correct.  Despite these and other issues, the government seems content to spend millions on the program.

Video (Mirror):

The robot’s head and limbs can retract into its rotund body, causing it to greatly resemble Nissan’s EPORO robot.  And in another hint that they plan to eliminate humans from the loop, the robot can also autonomously build maps of its surrounding environment using a wide-lens webcam and ultrasonic range sensors.  Ceiling markers provide some positional data while the ultrasonic sensors help with obstacle avoidance.

Video (Mirror):

Korean vigilante groups such as the Anti-English Spectrum group, along with the media, have perpetuated the image of foreign teachers as drug-addled, sexually promiscuous, and disease-ridden.  Some groups have even made threats of physical violence.  Perhaps because of this, the government imposed mandatory HIV testing in 2007.  The recent push for robotic replacements has to be at least partially related to the undercurrent of xenophobia plaguing the nation’s push for greater multiculturalism.

[source: YSSMecha @ YouTube] & [The New York Times]