Opie visits Arnhem Land

4 Jan 2018

The ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL) classroom robot Opie has taken on many forms over the past year, as the UQ social robotics team experiment with form and materials. Most recently, the Opal team and the Ngukurr Language Centre have developed a new travelling version of Opie, which can be packed down flat and easily taken on small aeroplanes or in rough-terrain vehicles all over the country.

Postdoctoral researcher Gautier Durantin and research assistant Jonathon Taufatofua took Opie back to Ngukurr, an Aboriginal community in south-east Arnhem Land, on the banks of the Roper River. Ngukurr is Ngalakgan country, and the community that make up Ngukurr are known as the Yugul Mangi people.

Ngukurr community mostly speaks Kriol, due to the Roper River Misson (1908-1968), but community members identify as belonging to 10 heritage languages that are all endangered.

Opie stayed at the language centre to assist language workers in teaching their languages. This is achieved by the use of interactive language games loaded on a tablet – the tablet actually forms part of Opie. In early testing, language workers commented on how fun and engaging these games were for the children, giving teachers another tool to use in the classroom.

Ngukurr community welcomed the project and Opie into their lives. The Ngukurr Art Centre has also given Opie a beautiful makeover from the very talented Gwenneth Blitner. Opie has never looked so beautiful!

“Opie will also be able to collect data about how well the kids are doing at learning and interacting,” says Gautier.

The photo at top shows members of the Ngukurr Language Centre with CoEDL members. Photo by Shaina Russell.