With Verizon's help, a robot goes to school for kids who can’t

Fri, 2015-06-19 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

For students with serious illnesses that keep them out of the classroom for extended periods of time, the consequences can reach beyond simply falling behind in their education. Deprived of the day-to-day social interaction with fellow students and teachers and the experiences of being out in the world, they can become isolated.

Council Lead Partner Verizon and VGo maker VGo Communications developed a solution to get around that problem and keep children connected. The technology-packed VGo is referred to as a mobile telepresence robot. The four-foot tall robot operates with Verizon’s 4G LTE network and a software application designed specifically for it. Operated by remote users with a PC or Mac, the robot is equipped with an integrated camera, microphones and a video display. That collection of technology allows users to see, hear and move -- and be seen and heard -- almost as if they were physically present.

While the technology inside VGo is complex, users operate and drive it with a few easy to use controls.

What exactly does VGo do?
"VGo stands for 'video on the go,'" explained Simon Strauss, customer support specialist with VGo Communications, "and it requires being able to push a large amount of data through a network. And the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network provides great bandwidth that is fully able to handle the video streaming that the VGo requires."

Strauss added that for students,  VGo is an immersive technology. "It lets them be wherever the VGo is; it’s like they are really there." Even if students are in a hospital hundreds of miles away, they can go to the aquarium or zoo -- or chat with friends between classes.

Enthusiastic responses
VGo has gone over well with students as well as their parents and friends, said VGo program manager Ramesh Marimuthu. "Technology is transforming the way we educate our students. Because of VGo and the Verizon 4G LTE network, the boundaries of distance have been eliminated."

  • Six-year-old New Jersey student Anthony Longo has been out of class with an acute form of leukemia. But he still attends school via the VGo loaned to him by the Valerie Fund Children's Center at Morristown Medical Center. Not only is Anthony able to continue with his schooling, his teacher Deb Puskas said there have been other benefits. "It helps motivate him because it's hard (being out of the classroom). He's been out of class since January," she said in an NJ.com article. "But he still feels connected."
  • Bloomington, Illinois fourth grader Jason Philipps, a cancer patient at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, is able to attend school despite being 400 miles away. According to an article in Pantagraph, Jason uses a VGo about three times a week, between doctor's appointments and when he's up to it. His school principal Shawn Hoffman is enthusiastic about the help the VGo has been able to provide Jason. "Not only is there the academic connection (Jason even was able to join a science experiment in which he told a classmate what to do on his behalf), but there is the social and spiritual interaction, which Jason thrives on."

VGo's remote video capabilities are also used in the healthcare industry for remote patient monitoring, consultations and helping patients stay connected with family.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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