IT is the high-tech teaching “buddy” helping the fight against Covid-19 – and bringing a touch of the future to classrooms.

A social robot named WallBo has boosted handwashing awareness in two Glasgow schools.

Installed at St Bride’s and Broomhill primaries as part of a trial, WallBo offered advice in the form of stories and songs – all delivered in a Scottish accent.

Follow-up questions with pupils showed the majority were keen to see the robot return.

The schools also saw an 85% increase in handwashing compliance and a 35% improvement in knowledge about hand hygiene.

WallBo was designed by Glasgow University researchers, who are refining the technology to make it autonomous.

Glasgow Times:

Lead developer Dr Amol Deshmukh, from the university’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, said: “Our observation is that the children like the features on WallBo.

“[It] looks like a hand and it also has moving eyes, which enhances the overall ‘being watched’ effect.

“Also, the voice of WallBo is a childlike voice, so it basically creates this connection with children.

“They think it’s like their friend, their buddy.”

Dr Deshmukh said the research team was working to improve WallBo’s algorithm so it can independently monitor and recognise handwashing movements.

“During the trials in the two Glasgow schools, we teleoperated the robot as a proof of concept, so there was a human observer who was watching the handwashing steps and teleoperating the instruction provided by WallBo to the children,” he said.

“But we have a lot of data that we have collected from the trial and which is helping us to build the artificial intelligence system, especially looking at computer vision and machine learning, so WallBo can automatically detect those steps and prompt the desired response from the children.

Previously called Pepe, WallBo was first developed to help reduce levels of child mortality in India.

“The results we saw in our tests there were very encouraging and, once the Covid-19 pandemic began, we started to consider the positive impact WallBo could have in preventing transmission in children by encouraging improved hand hygiene,” said Dr Deshmukh.