Telepresence Robots: Facilitating Access, Enhancing Education


Story by Clara Rice

Since the dawn of cultural institutions and entertainment attractions, those with severe mobility limitations have had to sit on the sidelines, denied experiences that the able-bodied often take for granted.  But a new technology is beginning to level the “playing” field, opening up new places, spaces and opportunities for the disabled, while also forging new educational paths for children and adults of all abilities.

The premise of telepresence robotics is simple.  From hundreds (or even thousands) of miles away, someone with a laptop and an Internet connection can control a robot in a remote location.  The robot supports a screen with their face on it, and they can interact with those around them just as if they were in the same physical space.

The earliest robots were used for telecommuting (mostly in Silicon Valley) and basically consisted of a Roomba vacuum with a Skype-enabled monitor rigged to it. Today’s models, like Suitable Technologies’ Beam Remote Presence System, are sleeker and more nimble, usually featuring a motorized stand, a 17” monitor, and a wide-angle lens that enables the controller to avoid obstacles and walls.

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