A new study from a lab in the Ed Psych department has found that a ‘learning companion robot’ can successfully encourage children to read through subtle social interaction. And this new research is earning plenty of attention. In the study, the research describes how Learning Sciences graduate student Joseph Michaelis built a robot – which he named Minnie – to serve as a reading buddy for middle school kids. His research, published in the journal Science Robotics earlier this month, found that Minnie’s new middle school friends grew more excited about books and more attached to the robot over the time the children spent reading to it. “After one interaction, the kids were generally telling us that, sure, it was nice to have someone to read with,” explains Michaelis. “But by the end of two weeks, they’re talking about how the robot was funny and silly and afraid, and how they’d come home looking forward to seeing it again.” As the child reads to the robot, it reacts to what’s happening in the book. “The goal is to try to make it as genuinely conversational as possible. If you were reading a book to me, and I was surprised, I’d say something like, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” explains Michaelis, a PhD candidate. “So, when a scary part of the book happens, the robot says ‘Oh, wow, I’m really scared.’ It reacts like it would if it had a real personality.” A number of media outlets have picked up on this new notable research. To read the story on CNN’s website, click here. Also check out the story in Popular Science here. And if you would like to read the Science Robotics journal article, click here.