Milo helps students through AI and augmented reality technology
By Deb Silverthorn
Everyone needs a friend, and a friend that can teach is a gift. Milo, created by Robokind, a Dallas-based company with deep roots in the Jewish community, is both.
“Kids connect with robots quickly and Milo is both a teacher and a friend,” said Richard Margolin, RoboKind’s co-founder, chief technology officer and an Ernst & Young 2019 Southwest Entrepreneur of the Year winner.
RoboKind uses innovative robotic, artificial intelligence and augmented reality technology with software-based instruction. The robots are designed in Dallas, the bodies manufactured in China and the internal computers are made in Israel.
Margolin’s future was all but cemented, at the age of 10, when he attended a lecture about the human brain. At 13, he held a summer internship at UT Southwestern, working on a human genome project which led to interning in a biotech and informatics lab.
A graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Margolin is the brother of Jane and the son of Ann and Fred, with whom he co-founded RoboKind. His dad is the chair of RoboKind’s board of directors and its first CEO; the family belongs to Temple Emanu-El. Margolin met his wife Robin, a grief and trauma counselor, while the two were students at Greenhill School.
In the wake of COVID-19, RoboKind has announced an advanced release of their District Enterprise robots 4STEM® Avatar Version software to provide free coding instruction to districts currently experiencing school closures. The virtual coding course is available until the end of June, a gift totaling $500,000. Its first lessons focus on digital citizenship and online safety.
The robots of RoboKind walk, talk, laugh, smile and frown, allowing users to relate and interact in a way they often can’t or won’t.
“The idea that my work helps people to help people, is very special,” said Dr. Pamela Rollins. who is an associate professor of communication sciences and a licensed speech-language pathologist at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at UT Dallas. She and autism expert Michelle McFarlin created RoboKind’s curriculum.
“Children on the spectrum often like technology, making Milo a great way to teach social skills through the use of friendly technology,” said Rollins
“Milo helps children be able to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ He teaches appropriate spacing between children and those they’re with, how to be in basic social scenarios and he has a calming module that teaches self-regulation,” said Rollins. She, her husband Jon and daughter Michaela are Temple Emanu-El members. “I’m proud of being a small part of what Milo’s done to help so many children.”
Milo has also made an impact with clients of Jewish Family Service. Margolin and his wife were moved to donate funds to JFS after they participated in the leadership development program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and became more educated about the agency’s services.
“Milo helps increase vocabulary of emotions, read others’ emotions and teaching skills to manage challenging social situations. The clients I’ve introduced him to, ages 5 to 12, are engaged and want to interact with him,” said Bonny Stewart, a licensed psychologist, licensed specialist in school psychology and registered play therapist/supervisor at Jewish Family Service. “There is lots of potential for both children on the spectrum and early therapy clients learning coping skills.”
Says Margolin: “JFS’s clinicians provide when schools can’t. We wanted to share the program with them.
Jacob Fisher, RoboKind’s manager of client success, onboards and trains clients, preparing and maintaining the robots.
“Education is the silver bullet and we must provide whatever we can for our kids,” said Fisher, the son of Laurel and Mark and brother of Ethan. His role at RoboKind combines his long interest in those with special needs. He has previously served as a counselor at now-closed URJ Kutz Camp in New York and volunteered at Community Homes for Adults, Inc. At RoboKind, Fisher combines his passion for helping children and interest in science fiction.
“Our robots and curriculum assist teachers; they don’t replace them. Milo is their pal and ‘he’ is having kids who have never spoken aloud engaged in conversation. He is life changing,” said Fisher, a member of Temple Shalom who attended The Alexander School high school with Margolin. “With families at home, resources are limited and we’re uniquely prepared to help bridge the gap.”
Some 600 Milos are opening hearts and spirits through the avatar program every day in the U.S. and 11 other countries.
“We want to engage with as many people as possible,” said Margolin. “No one knows yet what education and therapy will be in the months to come but we’re doing all we can to support as many, the best we can.”
For information about the company’s products, visit RoboKind.com.