Students bedridden by serious illness can now see and interact in real time with their peers and teachers through pairs of remotely controlled robots.
The devices, which are the size of a child seated at a desk, are available to students in several hospitals around the country. A robot in the student’s classroom displays a video image of the patient, while its counterpart in the student’s hospital room shows a live feed from his or her desk. Through scanners and printers built into the machines, handouts and notes can be sent back and forth, and students can even raise their robots’ arms in class to answer questions.
“Within 15 or 20 minutes [teachers] forget it’s a robot,” says Ellen Bergman, superintendent of the Mt. Pleasant-Blythedale Union Free School District in New York state, which piloted the robot program. Disseminated and customized by the nonprofit Providing Education By Bringing Learning Environments to Students project, the robots are designed to be easy to use.
“We tried to minimize the impact on the teacher’s presentation,” says Dan Broderick, the technology director at PEBBLES.
In addition to keeping the hospitalized child on track with schoolwork, he adds, the robots help classmates understand what the student is going through, and ease the student’s return to the classroom after a long absence. Project managers hope to expand the program to more locations in the future.