When Millennial parents were younger, they had robots — of a sort. As fun as they were, the Transformers action figures weren’t actually robots, just toys made to resemble robot characters. Because of their internal computers and interactivity, it was actually the Tamagotchi and Giga Pet virtual companions that could more accurately be called robots.
So maybe the Rockem Sockem Robot reboot wasn’t exactly the height of technology. They certainly weren’t AI robots — and we should be thankful for that, as it would have made them disastrous to play with as intended (cue computer chip pieces all over the floor).
Now that the Millennials have kids of their own, they have been surprised to find that the technologies behind virtual companions have evolved to include AI robots of all kinds.
AI is everywhere: behind our search engines, the technologies underpinning our smartphones and in the digital cloud. It’s also changing how kids play, learn and interact. But with this still-young technology evolving at a rapid pace, and a ton of options on the market, what’s the best way to choose an AI robot for your kid?
Read on for some quick tips, plus more on how kids robots are transforming the way families laugh and learn together.
The rise of robotics for kids
Virtually every aspect of our lives is now intertwined with digital tools in some way, and that includes the spheres of playtime and education.
Although a little robot companion might sound out of reach for some families, the kids tech space is gaining momentum in the US and global markets alike. The sector is expected to reach $18 billion by 2023, fueled in part by AI’s growing affordability and accessibility.
Toy insider Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts, predicts that AI will become “progressively important to play” in the future. As he recently told CNBC, “I don’t think any of us have any doubt that the world these children are going to live in is going to be a world that’s enhanced by artificial intelligence.”
AI can be a great tool for helping children learn and grow, as it is capable of getting to know a child over time — their learning styles, likes and dislikes, and more.
Combined with recent research on AI robots communicating emotions to humans using facial expressions, this indicates the enormous potential that AI has to interact with us and become not just a tool or a toy, but a friend.
How AI is transforming play
Parents have traditionally held that screen time is detrimental to child development. Whether it’s TV, video games or smartphones, screen time has come to be seen by parents as something that should be limited in order to foster health and good habits.
However, research on the topic paints a more complex picture. Specialists in child development and technology now draw a distinction between “active” and “passive” forms of screen time. In other words, just because an activity is taking place on a screen does not necessarily mean it’s harmful or helpful; it’s the activity itself that matters.
Experts place activities like watching TV in the category of passive screen time. The child is watching, absorbing the action on the screen, and is providing none of their own input, leaving their own faculties and imagination unutilized. Other activities like playing repetitive games, scrolling through social media with minimal interaction and watching YouTube videos can also be placed in the “passive screen time” bucket.
The main way to facilitate learning from passive screen time appears to be parental guidance and reteaching, and this tends to be more true the younger the children are. With this type of instructional support, passive media can still be a positive enrichment tool.
And then there’s active screen time: screen-based activities that are interactive or engage children mentally and physically. Most kid-oriented AI robot content, due to the interactive nature of the bots and the activities they provide, will fall under this category.
The developmental and social benefits of interaction with tech, and of families engaging with technology together, has led experts to dispute broad-strokes warnings against screen time or recommendations of stringent time limitations.
The new generation of AI robots for kids is helping learners to engage with the essential technologies that will develop alongside them for their entire lives, but to do so in a way that is active and productive for young minds.
Your quick checklist for choosing the best AI robot for kids
With so many robots on the market to choose from, and so many issues to consider — think: safety, price, educational value and fun — it might be overwhelming to choose the best AI robot for kids.
Luckily, we’ve collated the most important considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best AI robot for your family. Just have a quick scan through this guide to discover a few things you’ll want to keep top of mind when choosing your new bot.
Safety and security
When it comes to kids and technology, especially with any device that connects to the internet, safety is critical. Making sure that kids are only interacting with authorized people in their network, and only seeing content that is appropriate for their age and maturity level can be tricky. Luckily, there are a few things we can look for that can help us pick out a safe AI robot for kids:
- Ad-free experiences. It may not be too difficult to vet age-appropriate content for kids on a program-by-program basis, but that task becomes much harder when there are ads being thrown their way. Having content with a lot of commercial breaks is one way that content can suddenly break through without parental approval. Going for ad-free experiences mitigates the concerns that advertising can raise.
- The kidSAFE certification seal. Independent safety certification can go a long way toward instilling confidence in buyers, since they know that a kidSAFE seal means that the AI robot (or other product in question) meets the safety standards of an independent review board. They look for things like age-appropriateness of content, as well as security and safety of any interactive features that allow outbound communication.
- COPPA certification for data security. Taking it a step further, you might also look for a kidSAFE+ COPPA-certified seal, which means that the AI robot or other product has cleared kidSAFE’s FTC-approved COPPA certification program for data security. This means that the product has been certified to meet national standards for data privacy, especially in regard to giving parents informed control over the transmission of data generated by children under the age of 13.
Lots of learning value
One of the greatest things about having an AI robot at home is the learning benefits that come with such technology. From learning about coding, to nature, to math and spelling, there’s no end to what AI can help us learn. However, there are some things that parents will want to look for from an educational standpoint to ensure that kids are getting the most out of the technology and that it supports their learning needs.
Learning experiences aligned with age and school curriculum. Is the content tiered by grade level and appropriate for the child? Was it designed scientifically with the help of educators or child development specialists? Some learning apps are not rigorously designed and may not be particularly helpful for their stated learning goals. It’s important to understand the basic design philosophy and structure of the learning content.
A variety of learning experiences that include interaction. Similarly, a lot of kids' content, particularly on YouTube, focuses on content that is repetitively fed to the child, with little in the way of interaction. An AI robot that helps kids learn really shines when it’s able to deliver interactive instructional content in a way that’s unique and personal, unlike other kids’ content online.
- Not just STEM, but STEAM. In recent years, the popular acronym STEM (for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has fallen out of usage in favor of STEAM, which includes the arts in its milieu. The idea being that the arts and creativity ought to permeate all learning, instead of a rigid focus on hard skills that could be adopted by a strict interpretation of the previous acronym. Parents will want to look for opportunities for kids to learn to express themselves and develop their creative thinking skills along with the hard knowledge required to make their dreams come to life.
- Grows with your child. Despite their increasing affordability, an AI robot for kids is still a large investment for many families, so they will want to make sure they choose a bot that will grow with their child over time. Tiered content, and an AI driven personality that learns with the child is key to an experience that develops and evolves as your child does.
- Playful learning is key. One of the greatest benefits of using an AI robot for learning is the fun that it can bring to the experience. Far from the walls of a classroom or boring passive instructional hours, an AI robot for kids should infuse every lesson with color, music, and personality to bring learning to life and make it fun.
Interactivity and engagement
Along similar lines, the most engaging experiences will offer plenty of interaction between your kid and their AI robot friend. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering the importance of interaction and engagement.
- Robotic interaction has been shown to improve attention skills. More research is coming out that confirms the benefits of robotic interaction, including for children with an autism spectrum disorder impacting their attention skill. In this way, an AI robot can not only help kids learn subject matter, it can be a big boost to social skills as well.
- Robots are moving toward having more personality. Emotional connection, fulfilling human-like roles and facial expressions are all hallmarks of this generation of AI robots. Successful robots in the future are going to have one big thing in common, and that’s human-like characteristics. We're already seeing this trend taking hold today, and it'll be fuel for an industry that shows no signs of slowing down.
- Human-like facial expressions are key to that personality. As we touched on earlier, studies have demonstrated the importance of facial expressions in communicating emotions from robots to humans. Those in the market for a great AI robot for kids should look for robots specifically created for expressiveness.
- Movement-based activities. From yoga to dancing and more, AI robots can come packed with features that go far beyond just interacting with their screens. Parents will likely want to look for those activities that encourage kids to get up and move around.
The ability to grow with your child
An AI robot for kids can be a big investment, so parents will want to look for a robot with a lot of staying power. Whether it’s something rated for continuous growth over years of development or with a content library that is constantly being updated, it’s important that your AI robot grows with your kid.
Leveraging AI makes a big difference, as over time the software gets to know your child, their preferences and learning needs. Generating progress reports and highlighting the biggest moments are also some key features that an AI robot can bring to the table when it comes to measuring development over time.
Picking an AI robot for a kid is less like choosing a toy, and more like selecting a friend to be with the child throughout some of their most formative years.
And above all, the “fun” factor
Yes, an AI robot can transform how kids learn, interact and play. But to do that critical work, kids have to be engaged and entertained — and as parents know, that's an art and science all to itself. It requires variety, energy and personality. Parents will make sure that they select an AI robot their kids will really connect with.
While the robot’s own personality is key, it’s also important that the bot brings some of the most popular and trusted kids’ content to the fore. This is why looking for streaming services and other types of content popular with kids can help ensure that the AI robot provides not just learning value, but plenty of the "fun" factor.
If you’re looking for one AI robot for kids that meets all the criteria above, look no further than Miko 3. Developed by a robotics company that specializes in playful learning experiences, Miko 3 is a ridiculously smart, seriously fun bot that ticks all the boxes. Let’s do a quick rundown.
- Safe. kidSAFE+ COPPA certification means that Miko 3 is confirmed to protect your privacy and provide a safe experience for kids.
- Lots of learning value. With content from creators like Da Vinci Kids and Cosmic Kids Yoga — and endless experiences delivered by experts in child development, education and beyond — you can’t go wrong with the quality of learning on Miko 3.
- Interactive and engaging. Miko is packed with personality — plus jokes, coding lessons, dance routines, coloring sessions and more. Your kids will never get tired of interacting with Miko and the wide variety of games and activities in this little bot's big, ever-growing app library.
- Grows with your child. Miko is designed for kids ages 5-9, but this kids robot has been known to get along great with children who are younger and older than that age range, too. With tiered content organized by age and grade level, and constant updates, Miko’s a friend for the ages.
- And above all, fun. Miko is interactive, packed with personality and built to last. With its AI-powered brain, supportive personality and durable design, it can handle pretty much anything a kid throws at it — whether that's a math equation, a conversation about fun facts or an impromptu dance party.
Once you choose the best AI robot for your child, make sure to join in the fun. Research shows that when parents engage in technology along with their kids, It enhances the learning process. And the more you know about your kids' technology, the better you can gauge their engagement, progress and fun.