Robots can take many forms. This one can go to school and provide a telepresence for homebound students. The goal for school-aged children who are ill, injured, or have disabilities is usually to get them back to school as soon as possible. If adaptive assistance is required, schools are responsible for providing whatever is necessary. In some cases, however, physically attending school just isn’t possible. Long-term or highly contagious diseases, immune system issues, and diseases or conditions that require an impractical amount of support machinery and assistance to travel with the child are situations where “going to school” just doesn’t work. Sometimes the condition is time-limited and in other cases it’s permanent.
VGo Communications developed a telepresence robot called VGo Remote Student, or just VGo for short. VGo acts as a surrogate presence. Connected by WiFi with a webcam and two-way audio, the robot allows students the next best thing to actually being physically in school. Three researchers from the University of California Irvine recently published a paper in The International Journal of Technologies in Learning about “virtual inclusion via telepresence.” In the study, five homebound students were paired withVGo telepresence robots. According to the authors, their work was the first exploratory study of telepresence robots.
Via the VGo robots, the students went from class to class, interacted with other students in hallways, went to lunch and other activities. The students were able to see and be seen via the webcams,participate in discussions, an interact with teachers and professional staff. The student’s experiences were not all positive. One experienced remote bullying and another withdrew from the study because she felt less “human.” Interestingly, the student who was bullied and his parent felt that part of the experience made it more “whole” and gave him a greater sense of what school was really like.
As telepresence robots are a new option for homebound students, much more study and research will follow. If robotic exoskeleton appliances can assist people with walking, telepresence robots are a step once removed to enable sick or disabled people to move about the world by proxy.