For children with long-term illnesses, it is usually hard to keep pace with their classmates. One little leukemia patient, however, has found quite an unusual way to speed up with schoolwork.
One day Stepan Sopin woke up to find that from then on he would be accompanied by a rather unlikely study partner: a robot.
Stepan is recovering from leukemia, and as he is not yet well enough to go back to school, the robot goes for him.
Half Dalek – half R2-D2 – is Stepan’s robotic representative. The boy is literally looking through the eyes of the robot, so he can see everything that is going on in the classroom.
“To move the robot’s head, I use the arrow keys, and to move the torso and body, the left side,” Stepan told RT. “It's quite fun – though you get tired quite fast, as you really have to focus on the screen. But if you can't attend school, it's quite a good option.”
Stepan also controls the volume and camera focus so the robot can look at the blackboard, listen to the teacher and answer questions like any other pupil – whereas the boy’s own image is broadcast on the robot to the whole class.
Stepan was diagnosed with leukemia almost two years ago. He has been using the robot since September, and according to his mother the benefits are not just educational.
“Stepan has started communicating to his classmates more since we had the robot,” Stepan's mother, Nina Sopina, told RT. “During the breaks he can talk to them, meet with them. When he stopped going to school, children soon forgot him. But when they see him every day on the screen, it’s different.”
Work on the robot began in 2007 after first testing it as a remote policeman.
Modifications, like a camera with a 10-times optical zoom, made it suitable for house-bound school children.
“Ordinary webcams limit our opportunities because we can't change anything in that virtual reality,” the robot’s chief engineer, Alexey Knyazev, told RT. “With a robot, these opportunities are almost unlimited. A person who can not only move the head but also the body experiences the phenomenon of tele-presence. In this case, your personality is not on the screen, but with the robot.”
The robots are also being tried out in hospitals so doctors can check up on patients from home. They are also helping disabled people find jobs as remote shop assistants.
What is more, soon people may not even need to control their robots.
“We’re testing a model that'll be able to visualize faces and understand that there are, for example, five people in front of it,” Knyazev said. “If one of the people starts talking, the robot will detect him and turn its head to him. The lower four black sensors help find the charging base and drive onto it automatically.”
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