Listen with grandma

May 01, 2001

Are you sitting comfortably, children? Then I'll begin

A ROCKING chair that persuades elderly people to tell stories about their childhood will help to preserve valuable oral history, according to Jennifer Smith of MIT's media lab. She developed the interactive rocking chair because she regretted not having a way of recording all her grandmother's family tales. "When she died we lost all her stories with her," Smith says.

In Smith's system, the elderly person sits on a rocking chair in front of a large screen displaying a life-size, graphic image of a little girl. She tells a story of her own and then asks the person in the rocking chair questions about their life.

In tests, Smith noticed that people's rocking patterns tended to change when they finished a story: "Some people come to a stop, while others speed up," she says. So an accelerometer on the back of the rocking chair monitors movement, feeding information back to a computer that controls what the little girl says and when she says it. "I felt she could tell when I didn't want to talk and it was time to ask another question," says Laurie Eberhardt, a grandmother from South Hadley, Massachusetts, who tested the system.

Pressure sensors in the seat of the rocking chair also monitor body movements so that the little girl can be made to lean forwards or backwards, mirroring the body language of the storyteller. The computer also uses a voice recognition system to decipher the storytelling and the child reacts happily, sadly or in a surprised way to the use of any of 50 keywords.

Smith's is the first conversational system to combine word recognition with an algorithm that also recognises intonation: so the little girl nods, or makes an appropriate sound, such as "uh-huh" or "hmmm", at the right time. "Before I did that, people would stop talking and say, 'I don't think it's listening,'" says Smith.

She has found that people tell longer and more detailed stories while sitting in the interactive rocking chair than they do when talking to a tape recorder with a list of questions in front of them. "It's a more sympathetic listener," says Justine Cassell at MIT's media lab, who is developing the system for use with children. As for preserving family stories: "It's not the same as having your grandchild on your lap," says Eberhardt, "but at least she didn't get distracted and run away."
-end-
Author: Eugenie Samuel, Boston

New Scientist issue: 5th May 2001

PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO: http://www.newscientist.com

New Scientist

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.