Using just a few recycled objects and his knack for programming, a man living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti made a robot that can have conversations with people. When making the robot, he had one little person in mind: his three-year-old son, who has had trouble learning language. The proud father says the robot is already improving his son’s communication skills.
Jean-Max Dumont, age 32, made a robot out of practically nothing: salvaged pieces from old electronics, PVC and a bluetooth speaker. He then used paper mâché to make a face for it.
He programmed the robot to respond to questions using the Google Now personal assistant’s sound database. Dumont estimates that it cost him about $52, equivalent to about 45 euros.
"Our child speaks much more now that he has this robot”
Jean-Max Dumont is the creator of this robot. He’s a trained graphic designer.
I built this robot for my son. He is three but he speaks very little. He doesn’t really express himself. Even at school, it is hard to get more than a few words out of him. He tends to respond using gestures instead of speaking. However, we don’t have the money to take him to see a specialist to get a diagnosis.
I noticed that my son liked to speak with Google voice recognition software. I am passionate about new technology and robotics. So I decided to make him a robot that he could converse with. It took me about two months to make it.
I had the idea that my son might like talking to a robot, but, honestly, it was just a guess. However, since I’ve made the robot, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my son. We use it to ask him questions and incite a response.
We’ve seen him make amazing progress. Now that he has this robot, he speaks to more humans, too. It’s hard to know exactly what changed for him, but he is way less introverted than before.
"There’s real need here for children who have problems with language-learning because specialists are expensive"
Two families contacted me because their children also have trouble expressing themselves. Unfortunately, I am not a pediatrician, so I’m not able to make robots that are adapted to the needs of these children. But it is clear that there is a real need here in Haiti for children who have problems with language-learning because specialists are expensive [Editor’s note: It costs about 30 euros an hour to see a speech therapist in Port-au-Prince, and there are few specialists].
Dumont says that the child “adopted” the robot and often talks and interacts with him.
I’d really like to build a robot that speaks Créole. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t yet have a Créole database.
I’d also like to experiment with making other low-cost robots aimed at improving people’s well-being and education.
Thanks to our Observer Niepce Zéphirin for his photos.