Robots help sick kids go to school

Children too ill to make it to school are still keeping up with their peers--thanks to telepresence technology that transmits lessons from the classroom back to the student.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
'I didn't do my homework because I ran out of batteries.' Stepan Supin's surrogate interacts with his teacher. AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov

Children too sick to go to school are still getting an education--thanks to robots in the classroom that transmit lessons back to the student.

Vgo Communications

Stepan Supin, 12, of Moscow has been battling leukemia for two years, and his immune system is so weak he can't leave home. However, telepresence technology allows him to go to school via remote-controlled robot.

The R.BOT 100 was developed by Moscow's 3Detection Labs several years ago, and it's been helping Stepan study history, geography, and languages since September.

Priced at roughly $3,000, the R.BOT 100 moves around on a wheeled base and has a display, Web cam, microphone, speakers, and an Internet link so Stepan can interact with his classmates and teacher.

"I can change the robot's speed, to go slower or faster. I can move his head to look left or right. I really feel as if I am in the classroom," Stepan told Australia's Herald Sun.

In Texas, Lyndon Baty also goes to school through a robot surrogate. He suffers from polycystic kidney disease and has a severely impaired immune system, which confines him to home.

Lyndon attends class with the Vgo telepresence robot, which was released last year by Vgo Communications. With two-way video, audio, and a 10-hour battery, Vgo lets Lyndon roam around the halls of Knox City High School and interact with other students (see the video below).

"I never thought when I was sick that I would ever have any interaction, much less this kind. It is just like I am there in the classroom," Lyndon said.

Priced around $6,000, the Vgo is much cheaper than Anybots' QB robot. With more and more telepresence bots coming out, will they become as common and cheap as laptops? If so, getting that magical doctor's note that lets you stay home might not mean too much anymore.