Monday November 19, 2018

New Toys Help Cultivate Emotional Intelligence in Children

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There was plenty of slime and llamas in red pajamas at the International Toy Fair earlier this week in New York. Hidden among these popular playthings were a number of toys that cater to the modern-day kid, with plenty of technology built in.

Educational toys are a mainstay in the industry, and S.T.E.M. toys, those that incorporate principles of science, technology, engineering, and math, have garnered attention in recent years. But now, toymakers are addressing children’s emotional intelligence as well, with toys that not only cultivate their IQ but their EQ, or emotional quotient.

PleIQ is a set of plastic toy blocks that use augmented reality technology to showcase a variety of words, numbers, and lessons to children. PleIQ CEO Edison Durán demonstrated how virtual characters and miniature storybook scenes pop up on the blocks when they’re held in front of a tablet camera.

ALSO READ: 4 Robots That Aim to Teach Your Kids to Code

“Every side of a block, every letter, every number and every symbol becomes a 3-D interactive learning experience specially designed to foster the multiple intelligence of preschoolers,” Durán said.

toys
Intelligence here includes intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, and PleIQ builds on these by having kids play the role of teacher or guide. Pixabay

 

“The children have to help the companion character in (a) difficult situation. So they have to give them the advice to solve these situations that are common,” Durán said.

‘A kid’s Alexa’

On the other side of the convention center, Karen Hu was demonstrating the workings of an educational robot called Woobo.

“You can think of this as a kid’s Alexa,” said Hu, Woobo’s strategic partnerships and business development manager. “We have a lot of expressions that are built into it.”

Hu posted a question to the furry green Woobo, “Hi, what’s your name?”

It responded in a childlike voice with, “Are you trying to trick me? My name is Woobo.”

Woobo comes programmed with educational games and activities that children can access via its touchscreen face. Toys that function as companions also aid in social development. Hu described how Woobo can help an autistic child.

“He can communicate with Woobo and he can follow some of the instructions Woobo is giving,” said Hu, noting that kids see Woobo more as a companion than a parent or authority figure “telling him to do certain things.”

Stress-relieving animals

A more low-tech companion is Manimo, toy animals weighing 2.2 to 5.5 pounds that can help with hyperactivity and concentration. Whether it’s a snake, salamander, dolphin or frog, Manimos can be draped across a child’s arm, chest or neck.

Like the use of weighted blankets or vests in occupational therapy, Manimos alleviate anxiety and stress and can be particularly helpful to kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or those on the autism spectrum.

Karine Gagner, president and founder of Manimo, explained that applying deep pressure to one’s body can help calm kids before bedtime, while simultaneously increasing their concentration and focus.

“It works very well at school, you can use it on your lap or you can put it over your shoulder or just hold it in your arm,” Gagner said.

ALSO READ: Toy makers urge the government to help promote indigenous products

Social intelligence

At the EQtainment booth, sales director Jonathan Erickson was explaining the company’s toy lineup: “The purpose of all of our products is to develop emotional and social intelligence in kids — so that’s impulse control, manners, any skill sets relating with other people.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a genius when it comes to IQ, you still need to be able to relate to the world around you,” Erickson said.

Erickson was displaying a board game called “Q’s Race to the Top,” in which players try to advance a monkey named “Q” to the top of his treehouse while engaging in an interactive mix of physical activity and conversational prompts. Kevin Chaja, EQtainment’s CTO, says the game got his 4-year-old daughter to open up.

“The biggest thing is her talking. And that’s the key of all this, is getting her to talk, getting her feelings expressed out. Like, ‘Hey, what does it feel like to be sad? Or how does it feel like to be happy?’” Chaja said.

Whether a board game can ultimately improve a child’s emotional intelligence remains to be seen, but in parents’ ongoing quest to raise well-rounded children, toymakers are making sure to cover all their bases.

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Refugee Communities Can Be Built By Tech Industries

Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.

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Refugees
Congolese families sit at the Kyangwali refugee settlement camp, Uganda, March 19, 2018. A California company is testing an app in Uganda that lets refugees earn money for AI training. VOA

Companies could help refugees rebuild their lives by paying them to boost artificial intelligence (AI) using their phones and giving them digital skills, a tech nonprofit said Thursday.

REFUNITE has developed an app, LevelApp, which is being piloted in Uganda to allow people who have been uprooted by conflict to earn instant money by “training” algorithms for AI.

Wars, persecution and other violence have uprooted a record 68.5 million people, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

People forced to flee their homes lose their livelihoods and struggle to create a source of income, REFUNITE co-chief executive Chris Mikkelsen told the Trust Conference in London.

Rohingya, Myanmar, refugees
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

“This provides refugees with a foothold in the global gig economy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s two-day event, which focuses on a host of human rights issues.

$20 a day for AI work

A refugee in Uganda currently earning $1.25 a day doing basic tasks or menial jobs could make up to $20 a day doing simple AI labeling work on their phones, Mikkelsen said.

REFUNITE says the app could be particularly beneficial for women as the work can be done from the home and is more lucrative than traditional sources of income such as crafts.

The cash could enable refugees to buy livestock, educate children and access health care, leaving them less dependant on aid and helping them recover faster, according to Mikkelsen.

Rohingya, Myanmar, refugees
Rohingya refugee women wait outside of a medical center at Jamtoli camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

The work would also allow them to build digital skills they could take with them when they returned home, REFUNITE says.

“This would give them the ability to rebuild a life … and the dignity of no longer having to rely solely on charity,” Mikkelsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Teaching the machines

AI is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

It is being used in a vast array of products from driverless cars to agricultural robots that can identify and eradicate weeds and computers able to identify cancers.

Refugees
In this Aug. 27, 1994 file photo, U.S. Coast Guard crew from the cutter Staten Island are hindered by rough seas in the Florida Straits as they attempt to rescue Cuban refugees. VOA

In order to “teach” machines to mimic human intelligence, people must repeatedly label images and other data until the algorithm can detect patterns without human intervention.

REFUNITE, based in California, is testing the app in Uganda where it has launched a pilot project involving 5,000 refugees, mainly form South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It hopes to scale up to 25,000 refugees within two years.

Also Read: Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.

Another tech company, DeepBrain Chain, has committed to paying 200 refugees for a test period of six months, he said. (VOA)