Headline Classroom Robots Make School possible for Home-bound Students
by Kareem Massie, age 16
Special education advocates see a growing role and value of robots as a remote teaching tool. Thanks to new technological advances in the fields of robotics, kids like Lexie Kinder can attend school.
Lexie Kinder is nine years old. Due to a bad heart, and a suppressed immune system, she is not able to attend class at Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter, South Carolina. Missing long-term periods of school can be a huge setback for anyone. Lexie is just one of 23,000 kids across the United States who are in this situation.
With the new VGo robotic system, Lexie no longer has to worry about falling behind in her education. She makes use of a robot to attend her classes fro home. The VGo system substitutes a robot for a person in various situations. Originally, the VGo Company, based in Nashua, New Hampshire, sold the robots to company executives and doctors. In 2011, VGo switched its target market to schools. It sold the first classroom model of the VGo robot to a school in Knox City, Texas. Since then, about 50 classroom robots have been sold.
The cost of a VGo robot, is about $6,000, plus an additional $1,200 in yearly maintenance. As expensive as it sounds, most of the robots sold have been bought with state or local money set aside for disabled children. Some parents hold fundraisers to pay for the robot, while others buy it themselves for classroom use.
The robot stands four feet tall and weighs 18 pounds. It is equipped with a video screen, capable of streaming two-way video. This robot, controlled with a computer, can swivel around classrooms. The VGo robot does require a stable Internet connection in order to function. Verizon provides the built-in wireless connection for the robot.
Parents and teachers had their doubts about how students in the classroom would cope with robots.
“I was concerned they would be distracted,” says Ivey Smith, teacher at Alice Drive Elementary School. “But within a couple days, they [the students] acted like it had always been here.”
According to Dr. Maja Mataric, whose research uses robots to teach social cues to autistic children, students adapt to the technology well and treat the robot like another classmate.
Using her robot proxy, Lexie is able to participate in school like her peers, raising her hand in class, and greeting friends in the hallway.
Although robot proxies ay still seem like stuff of science fiction, they are becoming more of a reality in classrooms across the United States.
[Source: The New York Times]