London, June 6 : A new class of mobile-phone monitored childcare robots, which enable parents to keep an eye on their tots through camera, could lead to a "generation of social misfits," a robotics professor has warned.
The new breed of childcare robots are being developed in Japan and tested in American schools.
Though Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield, highlighted the benefits of these robots, he also expressed fears that parents will simply leave their children in the hands of "robot role-models" while they work.
"These robots are great for monitoring children. Adults can log into the robot from the internet or from their mobile phones. They can direct the robot and see through its cameras, they can even speak to the children through the robots voice," The Sun quoted Sharkey, as saying.
"This new generation of robots can also monitor the whereabouts of children via radio frequency tags worn by children, plus they can keep children entertained by playing games. Currently it would not be legal to use these robots to mind children in a nursery without adults being present; but it would be perfectly legal to use them in the home.
"I can see the benefits of these childcare robots for busy professionals working from home. But my concern, is that they may prove to be too useful. With more and more people working from home on their computers, it would be all too easy to leave the kids with a robot and watch what is going on in the corner of your computer screen," he added.
However, he said: "Eventually, childcare professionals may use these robots. This may be quite safe and entertaining but what kind of role model is a robot? Could this lead to a generation of social misfits? What does this say about the value placed on children in society?"
Currently, he said many companies, including the Japanese giants Sony and NEC are developing robots that may finally end up caring for children.
In fact, NEC has already conducted extensive tests of a childcare version of its PaPeRo (Partner-type Personal Robot) with 27,000 participants. PaPeRo can recognise and verbally communicate with people, sending images by mobile phone, as well as playing games and singing along with others.
Also, investigations are being held on applications for PaPeRo at US daycare centres, kindergartens and primary schools.