Tiro, the robot, debuts as a teacher in S. Korean classroom


SEOUL — Children could hardly take their eyes off a new teacher when the instructor entered their classroom. Greeted with intense curiosity by the pupils, the teacher said: “How are you, my students? Let’s get started. Have you opened the book?”

Although the voice sounded human, the teacher was not. It was a robot named Tiro, which was recently invited for one day to assist a human instructor with a 30-minute English class at Euon Primary School in the central South Korean city of Daejon, 250 kilometers south of Seoul.

Tiro asked in English questions such as: “How many giraffes are there on the board?” It also displayed the name of the next student to participate in a role-playing task on the screen on its chest.

There were a few glitches in the experiment, though. Tiro, which was connected to a computer, sometimes fell into an embarrassing moment of silence when something went wrong with the computer.

Still, the Tiro-run class was too short to satisfy the children. “I hope every class will have such a robotic teacher,” 10-year-old Baek Ji Woong said.

The regular teacher was also happy with her new assistant. “I believe that robotic teachers like Tiro are going to be helpful for teachers and students alike,” Jeon Myong Jin said.

Developed in the past few years by a consortium of four companies, including Hanool Robotics Corp, and four science universities like the state-run flagship science institution, the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, Tiro was said to give a glimpse of what a futuristic classroom might look like in South Korea.

Daejon, a technological and scientific powerhouse in South Korea, has joined other cities to bid for a site to build “Robot Land” for the robotics industry. The government has said it would be a place for manufacturers, suppliers and researchers to work and give Japan a run for its money in the industry.

The government is to disclose the host city for the US$530 million project in October, and it was expected to open in 2009.

South Korea, like Japan, has set a goal to become the leader in the emerging robotics industry and put robotics in every home by 2020.