Japan has long been criticized for its low level of English, but children could soon become more proficient in the language just by chit-chatting with an artificially intelligent robot.
At least that’s the idea from AKA, a Korean startup based in the United States that is set to officially begin marketing educational robot “Musio” in Japan next spring.
“The way Musio communicates and its correct pronunciation will make users feel as if they were living in a different country,” said AKA executive Brian Lee during a preview demonstration to media in Tokyo this week.
According to the company, the goal is to provide a natural English-speaking environment for children in nonnative speaking countries.
AKA says the robot, which has short legs, pointed ears and droopy arms, will serve as a useful tool for Japanese learners as it requires users to pronounce English correctly.
The release of Musio, which has an Android-based “brain” that allows it to communicate, also comes as Japan tries to boost English competency ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.
Using artificial intelligence with information from big data, Musio can communicate through speaking, text, facial expressions and gestures.
Unlike voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, AKA says the interactive, chatty robot can think independently, remembers conversations and jokes, chats back and shares newly acquired knowledge.
When asked this week whether it knew Tokyo, Musio said, “Give me a second to think about it.”
After awhile, Musio described Tokyo as Japan’s capital and largest city.
According to the company, Musio learns through each interaction with the user by collecting data and verifying information on the Internet.
The robot, measuring about 20 cm tall and weighing just over 300 grams, will be available for ¥72,000 on pre-order.
Though it will be aimed mainly at children, with educational materials such as textbooks aimed to improve English skills, it can also be used by adults to check on scheduled appointments, for example.
The inventors are also considering expanding Musio’s capacity to help prepare for English ability tests such as TOEIC or TOEFL using existing materials.
Musio’s name is derived from Muse — the name of the system used in the robot, which is a reference to the Greek goddesses of inspiration in science, music and art.
The idea came from company CEO Raymond Jung’s interest as a child in Japanese manga comics and anime films, such as ‘Doraemon,’ which featured a relationship between a human and a robot.
The robot comes in three types depending on intelligence capacity and other upgraded features.