Hanson Robotics debuts Little Sophia, a robot companion that teaches kids to code

[The new Little Sophia robot extends the potential positive effects of medium-as-social-actor (MASA) presence, as described in this story from VentureBeat. For more information see the press release via GlobeNewswire, the robot’s Kickstarter page (the funding goal has already been met), a 6:30 minute video segment from NBC’s Today via YouTube, and for a broader review of “carebots, home robots and robo-pets” from CES 2019, coverage in TechRadar. –Matthew]

Hanson Robotics debuts Little Sophia, a robot companion that teaches kids to code

Kyle Wiggers
January 30, 2019

Hanson Robotics is the Hong Kong and Los Angeles-based company behind Sophia, the humanoid robotic citizen of Saudi Arabia who has appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Good Morning Britain, and panels hosted by the United Nations and International Telecommunications Union. Now Sophia has a 14-inch sibling: Little Sophia, who wants to help kids learn how to code.

Following previews on the Tonight Show and at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in January, Hanson this week took the wraps off of Little Sophia, a “tutorial companion” that taps artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile apps to inculcate kids in the ways of programming — not to mention robotics, science, engineering, computer vision, deep learning, and math. The diminutive Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled mechanical companion supports both Python and block-based programming languages, like Blockly. And she’s able to interface with Raspberry Pi for even greater extensibility.

It’s not Hanson’s first stab at a robotic STEM toy for kids. Two years ago, the company’s founder and namesake, David Hanson, teamed up with toy industry veteran Andy Rifkin to launch Professor Einstein, a pint-sized playmate that can play games, chitchat, and walk budding scientists through math and science lessons. But Little Sophia is the first consumer robot Hanson has built in-house.

Our vision at Hanson Robotics is to bring robots to life,” the company said. “Our team of AI developers, engineers, roboticists, scientists, and artists have designed Little Sophia with the expressiveness and engaging personality that made Sophia the Robot so appealing, further extending the reach of our character-driven AI technology.”

When Little Sophia isn’t tutoring, she’s showing emotions with “dozens” of facial expressions (including “happy,” “sad,” “surprise,” “grouchy,” and “delighted”). Or she’s walking, singing, reciting jokes, telling stories, responding to voice commands, or posing for selfies via the Sophia mobile companion app’s augmented reality (AR) feature.

Like her sibling, Little Sophia boasts built-in facial recognition algorithms that enable her to spot faces and follow a person’s movement. It’s this ability to respond and engage — along with her “open” software platform — that elevates Little Sophia from toy to capable AI home assistant, according to CEO Jeanne Lim. That might sound a bit aspirational, but hey — Sophia managed to get approved for a credit card last year. Answering a few trivia questions is the least we’d expect Little Sophia to do.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of our Little Sophia Kickstarter campaign to the public, and to provide an opportunity to empower young girls around the world by introducing STEM, coding, and AI in a fun and adventurous way,” Lim said. “Little Sophia delivers a high-quality, entertaining, and educational experience that motivates and inspires young students to spend time learning with her.”

Little Sophia launches on Kickstarter today.

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