A pilot study at Varala Urheiluopisto: Robot-assisted educational physical activities for pupils

Boys walking with the Spot robot. Image: Aino Ahtinen

On the summer Wednesdays of 7th and 14th June, we carried out two AI Hub Tampere pilot studies at Varala Urheiluopisto, as part of children's summer camps. The pilot study was smooth and successful. We would like to express our sincere thanks for the assistance provided by the staff at Varala Urheiluopisto and the suggestions they gave to improve our future study and collaboration.

The total duration of one pilot study was 1.5 hours, and the participating pupils were between 8 to 13 years old. The participating robots from Robostudio included a zoomorphic mobile robot, Spot, developed by Boston Dynamics, and two human-like robots, Nao and Pepper, developed by SoftBank Robotics. At the beginning of the pilot study, researchers from Tampere University and instructors from Varala Urheiluopisto gave an initial introduction session to pupils about ourselves and the robot activities. The robot activities occurred through rotation in small groups at three different stations. Each station lasted approximately 20 minutes. At each station, pupils interacted with a particular robot to conduct physical activities and acquire related knowledge. For instance, they followed a Nao robot’s movements in practicing martial arts, took part in a Tampere quiz through the tablet on the Pepper robot, and competed in running competition and push-up competition with the Spot robot. The study involved direct interaction with the robots, discussions between pupils, and physical activities in both indoor and outdoor environments.  

Pilot Study at Varala Urheiluopisto, Outdoor Spot robot station. Image: Aparajita Chowdhury

The pilot study was a preliminary study conducted to evaluate the feasibility and improve the planning of the research that will be carried out on the first day of September 2023. The pilot study went well, with pupils showing great interest in robots by initiating both physical and verbal interactions. For instance, pupils were proactive in touching the head of the Nao robot, putting the Pepper robot to sleep mode by covering its sensors, and operating the Spot robot through its tablet. Several questions related to the robots were asked by the pupils, including “How much does the Pepper robot cost?”, “Can the Nao robot answer any question, or do you have to programming for it?”, and “Can Spot robot swim?” In addition, the staff from Varala Urheiluopisto provided suggestions, assistance, and a positive attitude toward our future collaboration :). We are glad that we were able to test our concept of companion robots as facilitators in physical activities for pupils. We are looking forward to returning to Varala and bringing on motivational physical activities in the autumn!

Left picture: Spot robot and its operating tablet. Right picture: pupils petting the Spot robot. Image: Aparajita Chowdhury

Written by Chia from Robostudio, activity co-facilitated by Aino, Aparajita, Nasim and Varala instructors

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