School buys telepresence robot to help sick student

Zachary Thomason, 12, suffers from X-linked myotubular myopathy and is too weak to even feed himself. This telepresence robot will now help him attend class.

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
Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Without machines, Zachary Thomason wouldn't live very long. The boy has been on a ventilator for all of his 12 years because he suffers from a rare muscle disorder that makes him extremely weak.

Until now, X-linked myotubular myopathy has prevented him from going to school regularly. But since the Paragould School District in Arkansas purchased a $5,000 VGo telepresence robot, chances are he'll become an avatar-style student soon.

Zach likes to play PlayStation, so he can remote-control the VGo, which is basically a Webcam on wheels. At 4 feet tall, it's designed to project the user's presence into a remote location with two-way audio and video, allowing for richer interaction than a phone call or stationary Webcam.

It can be used wherever there's a Wi-Fi or Verizon 4G LTE signal, and docks itself for a recharge at the click of a button.

VGo robots have helped other sick kids go to school, such as Lyndon Baty of Texas, who has polycystic kidney disease, and Aidan Bailey of Iowa, who has had two lung transplants.

Zach recently sat in on a science project in class for the first time with VGo. It might even help him make some friends.

"He's never had real friends," KAIT TV quoted his mother Tonya Thomason as saying. "One of his teachers had a little boy, Ms. Stacy was her name, and when she'd come over, her and her little boy would visit and that was his buddy. We don't get to see him anymore.

"He has all the little dreams and make-believe and goals in his little world that everybody else does. He's just limited to his world."

(Via Robots Dreams)