Friday, September 9, 2011


Robot connecting classes remotely during a recent company training.

The August 1, 2011 Sports Illustrated ran an article about a boy named Lyndon Baty who attends school in his tiny Texan town via robot. Lyndon was born with PKD (polycystic kidney disease), an often fatal disease. As Gary Smith describes it in his article "A Boy and His Bot," Lyndon was born with a hole in his heart, a quarter-sized stomach, dangerously high blood pressure, and enlarged kidneys full of cysts. He was given 14 days-2 years to live.

Today, Lyndon is a freshman in high school, though he doesn't actually set foot in the school. He attends his 68-student high school virtually, using a robot to maneuver through hallways and sit in class. Like the other students, he can go from classroom to classroom and interact with his schoolmates. His face is visible on the screen that is the robot's "head." The other students see and talk with Lyndon and he sees them. The robot braves the germs and dangers at school while Lyndon stays home controlling the robot through his computer. It is the only way he can attend school.

We use a robot at my workplace on occasion, too. Like Lyndon's, the person controlling our robot remotely is visible on the monitor screen. He or she can move about the room and interact with other people and can even zoom in if there is something particular he needs to view. Unlike Lyndon, we haven't realized the robot's full potential. Often, our robot remains stationary and simply replaces other virtual meeting tools like video conferencing and Skype. We're still exploring the many ways in which the computer can be used. For now, it simply replaces the need for people to travel to a meeting.

Who knows what the future might bring. In the SI article, one teacher quips that robots may be the wave of the future. Perhaps one day we'll all live virtual lives from the comfort of our homes. I, for one, hope not. But as Lyndon and other explorations into the world of robotic utilization prove, the robots are coming!

To read the full Sports Illustrated article, click here:

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