Robotic Surrogates Help Chronically Ill Kids Maintain Social, Academic Ties at School

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UCI is first to conduct formal study of virtual inclusion for homebound students

Story by UCI News

Chronically ill, homebound children who use robotic surrogates to “attend” school feel more socially connected with their peers and more involved academically, according to a first-of-its-kind study by University of California, Irvine education researchers.

“Every year, large numbers of K-12 students are not able to go to school due to illness, which has negative academic, social and medical consequences,” said lead author Veronica Newhart, a Ph.D. student in UCI’s School of Education. “They face falling behind in their studies, feeling isolated from their friends and having their recovery impeded by depression. Tutors can make occasional home visits, but until recently, there hasn’t been a way to provide these homebound students with inclusive academic and social experiences.”

Telepresence robots could do just that. The Internet-enabled, two-way video streaming automatons have wheels for feet and a screen showing the user’s face at the top of a vertical “body.” From home, a student controlling the device with a laptop can see and hear everything in the classroom, talk with friends and the teacher, “raise his or her hand” via flashing lights to ask or answer questions, move around and even take field trips.

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