U.N. robot envoy last of its kind

RIO DE JANEIRO (Kyodo) Sony Corp. recently announced it will cease development of QRIO humanoid robots. Nevertheless, the machines continue to entertain children around the world.

A QRIO robot enchanted a group of students with a samba and soccer performance Tuesday at a school in Sao Paulo.

QRIO, the product of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology developed by Sony Corp., is touring Brazil sponsored by the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan.

“It surprised me when (the robot) danced samba,” said Gustavo Vencigueri Azedo, 10, as he mimicked the robot’s steps of Brazil’s national dance.

The performance at Colegio Magno School demonstrated the robot’s ability to dance to different rhythms. It stumbled and got back up, reacting to sounds and talking to students in Portuguese.

“My classmates were very impressed when the robot walked toward a soccer ball and kicked it,” Karen Pincelli Izzo, 11, said.

Izzo could hardly conceal the excitement in her voice as she described the scene, adding the encounter has inspired her classmates to pay more attention in science classes.

“The robot has shown us that this is the right track for motivating students toward technology,” Principal Miriam Tricate said, adding that she was impressed by the students’ interest in talking to the Sony technicians who attended the event.

Colegio Magno School, which is part of the United Nations Educational and Scientific C Organization’s Associated Schools Project Network, was selected as one of two schools in Sao Paulo to host the first leg of the robot’s Brazilian tour because of its emphasis on technology in its curriculum.

Students at the school have several science projects under way, including construction of a solar-powered vehicle and robots that can help blind people.

The Brazil tour is the association’s first event involving the Sony robot outside Asia. Previous technology education tours have been conducted in India, Vietnam and Thailand.

“Brazilian children have behaved in a more lively way in comparison to what I have seen among children in these three Asian countries,” said Toyoko Sakamaki, deputy director of the association’s education and culture division.

Sony developed the prototype for QRIO in 1997. The latest version can walk across uneven surfaces and recognize faces and voices.