Students get insight into the future with visit from humanoid robot

Students get insight into the future with visit from humanoid robot

On Tuesday (4 December), students at National Star College at Ullenwood, Gloucestershire, got the chance to interact with robots and enjoy virtual reality experiences.

The fun visit was arranged by one of the governors, Robert Haymon-Collins, who is also a director at Bristol-based Jisc, the UK’s education technology solutions not-for-profit. Jisc uses the robots and other equipment at events and develops a range of technology for use in colleges, universities and research centres.

Robert showed the students a humanoid robot called Pepper, which can respond to movement, touch and questions – and also proved a hit with visiting BBC Radio Gloucestershire reporter, David Smith.

Robert explained: ‘It’s all about interaction. Some students at National Star respond very differently to robots than they do to humans, which can help them build emotional connections. Pepper adds an extra layer of humanity for those not comfortable or able to make close bonds with those around them.

‘Eventually, as the technology develops, robots could help them with everyday tasks and enable a greater degree of independence, but for now robots like Pepper are more about encouraging these student to develop connections.

‘Jisc’s visit this week provided a bit of fun for the students, but some of the other kit we brought along is more likely to be useful to them than Pepper. The virtual reality headsets can open up new experiences, for example, those who can’t physically jump out of a plane, or sit in a rollercoaster, can enjoy a taste of that adrenaline rush through VR.’

National Star is experienced in using technology to support students to learn and develop, and we are, for example, working with the University of Bath on a virtual reality project.

Simon Barnett, Multimedia Tutor at National Star, said: ‘Here at National Star it is easy to forget that these young people struggle to find a voice or fit in to society in the same way people of their age do.

‘They feel safe to develop and express themselves here at college, and always have compassionate people around them to listen. My goal as their tutor is to make them future proof and ready for the challenges life will throw at them. There is however always a nagging thoughts in the back of my mind for their future.

‘Loneliness in young people with disabilities is a growing problem that seems to go unnoticed by most of us. Pepper and Sanbot may have been developed with retail, advice, education and product promotion in mind but I feel their real potential lays in combatting this loneliness and broadening the horizons of my students.’

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