By Arielle Dollinger
Walking through school hallways on his first day back in academia since his appendectomy, Long Island School for the Gifted freshman Jeffrey Kaji was present in mind but not in body – a reality made possible by a robot he could control via computer.
Made by A+ Technology and Security Solutions, for which Kaji's mother works as director of marketing, the robot is one of many that retail for $20,000 and make it possible for people to be virtually present anywhere – even in the classroom.
For one week and one day, Kaji controlled the robot from home, navigating hallways of “swarming” curious students with points and clicks. He could see the school on his computer through the robot’s video camera, and students could see him on the screen that doubles as the robot’s “face.”
“It's basically like playing a video game,” Kaji said. “I basically got used to class almost immediately... The weirdest part was the fact that I would get so immersed in it and I would feel like I was there, only to have the teacher hand out papers and then I would be so not there.”
The student swarms were a complication, he said, so a teacher accompanied the robot through the hallways for the first couple of days.
“Everyone's first reaction was, ‘Oh look, a cool robot – let’s go stand in front of it,’” Kaji said. “But once they started to get used to it, then that problem went away somewhat quickly.”
Kaji's mother, Margie Gurwin, spoke to her boss about sending a robot to school with her son after she and her husband realized that Jeffrey would miss a week of school while he recovered. Her company sells technology into public schools.
“I was thinking of all the work he was going to be missing,” said Gurwin, whose office uses the robots to allow employees in various parts of the country to gather for meetings in the same conference room. “I thought, ‘Wow, maybe we could send the robot to my son's school and he could go to school that way.’”
The availability of this technology is not new; these robots have been around for a couple of years now, Gurwin said.
“I think they've often been viewed as a luxury and more gimmicky rather than [as] a necessity,” said Gurwin, noting that it seems schools are more likely to spend money on Smart Boards. “I don't think that, until they've seen it in action... they've realized what a great solution this is and how it's applicable not just to kids with severe handicaps.”
The robot used the school’s Wi-Fi, and the ninth-grader behind it learned to control it the night before its arrival at the school.
Kaji has since returned to school; he can physically accept class handouts once again.