Robot teacher an Australian first

Waikiki Primary students Ziggy Williams and Kaysia Stalenhoef with their robot Neo. Pictures: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Move over R2-D2 and WALL-E, Waikiki Primary School's newest addition is a humanoid robot named Neo - the first used in a WA classroom.

He walks, he talks, he even does tai chi and Neo is set to revolutionise the way students learn about robotics and programming.

The school, its Parents and Citizens Association and the Rotary Club of Rockingham raised $23,000 so Waikiki could be the first school in Australia to buy a French-built Aldebaran Nao robot and its software.

Students' eyes lit up when the robot waved and introduced himself as Neo - the name the school chose as an anagram of "one" to represent its first robot.

Standing 58cm, Neo can be programmed to do many tasks including recognise voices and faces, catch small objects and dance. To interact with people, Neo has advanced movement ability, cameras as eyes, touch sensors and microphones.

The school hopes to be a leader in information and communication technology and plans to start a robotics program next year.

Having upgraded its computer lab, bought a 3-D printer and invested heavily in mobile technology, the robot was the last piece of the school's tech puzzle.

Principal Craig Stanners said the robotics initiative was not about replacing traditional teaching but to give teachers an extra tool to inspire students.

Students will learn to use Choregraphe software to make Neo speak and move and teachers can program it to demonstrate moves and repeat learning strategies.

Neo's Autism Support for Kids program will help students on the autism spectrum develop social skills.

Associate principal Gordon Cooper said it was exciting and daunting to be the first primary school to start teaching this technology.

"Mobile technology is the way forward," he said.

"I think people see him as a toy or that this is some sort of flippant exercise. It's not and it's hard to convince people that this is serious robotics."

Jonathan Kingsley, from Aldebaran's Australian distributor Brainary Interactive, said learning about robots was important because Australia was close to a robotics revolution. He said robots helping at home "like Bicentennial Man" was a lot closer than people thought.