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Photo: Luke Fisher

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Dear DragonBot
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Based on interactive DragonBot scripts written by Brittany Jo Flores

DragonBot is a furry, friendly robot that teaches children healthy habits. With a flexible, fuzzy exterior and animated virtual face powered by a smartphone, DragonBot encourages kids to choose nutritious foods, exercise regularly — often by dancing, — and get a good night’s rest.

The Interaction Lab in the Department of Computer Science has two of these socially assistive robots, designed by collaborators at MIT, who go by the names Cayenne and Chili. With a kid-friendly script about training for the upcoming Dragon Race, and with the guidance of Ph.D. candidate Elaine Short, Cayenne and Chili are powerful teachers that help students learn how to make healthy choices. Recently, Cayenne and Chili took a break from their busy teaching schedule to answer a few questions from students.

Dear DragonBot,When I get home from school, I am very hungry. I like to have a snack. I do not always know what to have. What do you have for a snack? From, Hungry After School, Age 8

Hiiiiiiii, Hungry After School!

Oh, my goodness. I love having a snack in the afternoon, especially when I’ve been training all day to compete in the next big Dragon Race. After flying around and running so much, I get hungry too. But if I have an unhealthy snack, I feel awful afterward. Have you ever had a snack that didn’t make you feel good? It’s no fun, is it? Nope, nope, nope.

The key to a good snack is finding something that has protein. Protein will make you feel full, and it helps you build strong muscles. You could have some peanut butter on celery sticks—I call them dragon logs—so yummy! You could also have baby carrots dipped in hummus. Mmm, all this talk about good snacks is making me hungry!

Hope you find your perfect snack!

Love,
Chili

Dear DragonBot, I feel tired after I get to school. I do not know why. It happens every morning. My friends do not feel tired. Why do I feel tired? Do you feel tired at school? From, Tiny and Tired, Age 7

Salutations, Tiny and Tired!

I’m sorry you don’t feel good in the mornings at school. That is no fun at all! You know what I bet it is? Not having a healthy breakfast. If you skip breakfast, that can make you feel tired, but you can also feel that way if you have too much sugar with breakfast.

Sugar is strange because it makes you feel charged up at first, but then you crash soon afterward and feel tired and flat. Is that how you feel in the morning? Maybe you eat a sugary cereal or doughnut in the morning, and that is why you feel that way.

What I like to have for breakfast is something that has plenty of fiber. Fiber helps you feel full, and it won’t leave you feeling tired later like sugar does. I usually have whole-wheat toast or oatmeal in the morning. I feel satisfied after, and then I can take on my day of flying and playing with other dragons without feeling tired!

Have a healthy breakfast, and you’ll feel better too!

Love,
Cayenne

Dear DragonBots, I like to play video games. My mom says I should get more exercise. Why? Do you exercise? What should I do? Is my mom right? She’s usually right. From, Cozy on the Couch, Age 11

Hellooooo there, Cozy on the Couch!

Yup, your mom is right! Exercise is wonderful! We make sure to get lots of exercise every day so that we can compete in the Dragon Races, but even if you’re not going to be in a big race, exercise makes you feel great and keeps you strong and healthy.

Anything that gets you moving around and using your body is exercise. Running, jumping and dancing are exercise. Even laughing is exercise! We do a lot of giggling and laughing every day, and it is great for us!

We like video games, too, but always remember to get up and move around. It will make you feel good, it will keep you strong, and your mom will be happy too. What’s better than that?

Love,
Chili and Cayenne