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Children and Robots

Between 2004 and 2007, we conducted a long-term field study at an Early Childhood Education Center in San Diego, CA in which we immersed ourselves and a small humanoid robot into a classroom of children between 10 to 24 months old. The original goal was to explore the use cases of educational robots; however, through this exploratory field study, we observed the socialization process between the children and the robot, discovering a lot of insights for making an engaging robot. Now this study is widely recognized as a classic study of child-robot interaction.

  • Fumihide Tanaka, Aaron Cicourel, Javier R. Movellan: Socialization between Toddlers and Robots at an Early Childhood Education Center, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Vol.104(46), pp.17954-17958, 2007 [pdf, 801KB] [The movie files referred in this paper are also available at the PNAS web: here]

Care-Receiving Robot (CRR) Project

In contrast to conventional teaching agents (including robots) that were designed to play the role of human teachers or caregivers, we propose the opposite scenario in which robots receive instruction or care from children. We hypothesize that by using this care-receiving robot, we may construct a new educational framework whose goal is to promote children's spontaneous learning by teaching through their teaching the robot.

We tested this care-receiving robot (CRR) in several learning opportunities such as language learning and hand writing tasks, and confirmed that this robot helped children's learning very effectively as hypothesized. Now this care-receiving robot application for child education is commercialized (see next topic below).


  • Fumihide Tanaka, Shizuko Matsuzoe: Children Teach a Care-Receiving Robot to Promote Their Learning: Field Experiments in a Classroom for Vocabulary Learning, Journal of Human-Robot Interaction, Vol.1(1), pp.78-95, 2012 [pdf, 280KB]
  • Shizuko Matsuzoe, Fumihide Tanaka: How Smartly Should Robots Behave?: Comparative Investigation on the Learning Ability of a Care-Receiving Robot, Proceedings of the 21st IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN 2012), pp.339-344, Paris, France, September 2012 [pdf, 1.7MB, IEEE Xplore]
  • Fumihide Tanaka and Takeshi Kimura: The Use of Robots in Early Education: a Scenario based on Ethical Consideration, Proceedings of the 18th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN 2009), pp.558-560, Toyama, Japan, September 2009 [pdf, 263KB, IEEE Xplore]

Commercial Application of CRR on Pepper

Dr. Fumihide Tanaka served as a consultant for SoftBank Robotics Corp. in which he supervised the development of a commercial educational application on Pepper, a personal robot. This application was designed based on the concept of the care-receiving robot (CRR) explained above. Users can teach Pepper, for example, a color, red with showing a red ball to it, which results in helping the users learn the word, red. This process was designed as a learning scenario for foreign language (e.g. English vocabulary learning for Japanese children).


Also, this application incorporates several knowledge obtained from our past researches. An example is about haptic interactions. We noticed the power of haptic interactions between children and robots (see our PNAS paper) and designed these interaction opportunities in several ways within the application. This is very effective to let children engaged in the robot and the learning application.

  • Fumihide Tanaka, Kyosuke Isshiki, Fumiki Takahashi, Manabu Uekusa, Rumiko Sei, Kaname Hayashi: Pepper Learns Together with Children: Development of an Educational Application, Proceedings of the 15th IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots (Humanoids 2015), pp.270-275, Seoul, Korea, November 2015 [pdf, 1.07MB, IEEE]

Child-Operated Telepresence Robot Project

This project explores the use of child-operated telepresence robot for the purpose of facilitating international communication between distant classrooms. In particular, we developed several user interfaces that enabled even young children three years old could remotely control his/her avatar robot that was placed in a remote location.


Most importantly, it was revealed that children who could not communicate well with speakers of different languages over conventional video conference services could communicate using the telepresence robot system developed by this project. This was because even the situation in which they could not communicate verbally due to the language difference, on this system they could use their bodily movements such as gestures, physical object-handling, etc., which in fact mattered significantly. We investigated these aspects and reported a strong potential for remote education.

We also conducted an international field trial that connected remote classrooms between Australia and Japan.

  • Fumihide Tanaka, Toshimitsu Takahashi, Shizuko Matsuzoe, Nao Tazawa, and Masahiko Morita: Telepresence Robot Helps Children in Communicating with Teachers who Speak a Different Language, Proceedings of the 2014 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2014), pp.399-406, Bielefeld, Germany, March 2014 [free pdf available at ACM DL here, 1.1MB]
  • Fumihide Tanaka, Toshimitsu Takahashi, Shizuko Matsuzoe, Nao Tazawa, and Masahiko Morita: Child-Operated Telepresence Robot: a Field Trial Connecting Classrooms between Australia and Japan, Proceedings of IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2013), pp.5896-5901, Tokyo, Japan, November 2013 [pdf, 1.6MB, IEEE Xplore]
  • Fumihide Tanaka, Toshimitsu Takahashi, Masahiko Morita: Tricycle-style Operation Interface for Children to Control a Telepresence Robot, Advanced Robotics, Vol.27(17), pp.1375-1384, 2013 [draft pdf, 1.3MB] [published version, 938KB]

Robotic Interface that Facilitates Intergenerational Interactions

This is our new research project that targets intergenerational interactions between older people and children. We are developing a robotic interface (a two-way telepresence robot system) that supports and facilitates remote communication between the older people and the children. An important requirement for the system here is to bridge the generation gap between the two during their remote communication.

  • Erina Okamura, Fumihide Tanaka: A Pilot Study about Remote Teaching by Elderly People to Children over a Two-way Telepresence Robot System, Proceedings of the 11th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2016), pp.489-490, Christchurch, New Zealand, March 2016 [free pdf available at ACM DL here, 160KB]

Multitask/Lifelong Reinforcement Learning

This was Dr. Tanaka's Ph.D. work whose goal was to expand the basic framework of reinforcement learning so that it could deal with a continuous, lifelong learning scenario in which the agent (robot) was given multiple (infinite) learning tasks one by one. The agent was supposed to utilize its past learning experience to solve the current task effectively. This problem was formulated by introducing the distribution of MDPs (Markov Decision Processes) and then a reinforcement learning algorithm was derived.

The original study was conducted about 20 years ago; however, the idea of transfer of knowledge and developmental learning is still important, and is indeed a required element for current robots at large.

  • Fumihide Tanaka, Masayuki Yamamura: An Approach to Lifelong Reinforcement Learning through Multiple Environments, Proceedings of the 6th European Workshop on Learning Robots (EWLR-6), pp.93-99, Brighton, UK, August 1997 [pdf, 171KB]
  • Fumihide Tanaka, Masayuki Yamamura: Multitask Reinforcement Learning on the Distribution of MDPs, Proceedings of the 2003 IEEE International Symposium on Computational Intelligence in Robotics and Automation (CIRA 2003), pp.1108-1113, Kobe, Japan, July 2003 [pdf, 341KB, IEEE Xplore]
  • Fumihide Tanaka, Masayuki Yamamura: Exploiting Value Statistics for Similar Continuing Tasks, Proceedings of the 2003 IEEE International Workshop on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN 2003), pp.271-276, Millbrae, USA, October 2003 [pdf, 309KB, IEEE Xplore]

(Updated on April 25, 2016)