ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Tai Chi has been practiced for hundreds of years by humans. But now, thanks to a project at the Rochester Institute of Technology, robots are learning the meditative martial art.

Dr. Zhi Zheng, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at RIT, works on “teaching” robots like NAO to not only practice, but teach Tai Chi.

“Tai Chi is a type of mind-body exercise it is itself a physical exercise but it also contains many cognitive components,” said Dr. Zheng.

There are still limitations to what NAO can do — the robot’s movements lack the same fluidity and directional capabilities as humans, for example. But so far, the robot has been well received, both inside the lab and out.

“[We did a] pilot study in Milwaukee with local people I think the average age was in the 70s. They told us that they really love the exercise [and] they could follow the robot well,” said Dr. Zheng.

In the future, the hope is to continue to boost the availability of NAO to the elderly, particularly outside of bigger cities and in more rural communities in an effort to boost public health. While some may think they’ll feel odd talking to or working with a robot Zheng disagrees.

“We also find that using a robot or other type of intelligent agent not human can help relieve some of the social stigma,” said Dr. Zheng.

While NAO isn’t ready to teach your local community center classes, the technology is rapidly advancing, and will likely become just another part of daily life before you know it.