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Buddy the Robot Goes to School

Girl Interacts with Buddy the Robot

 

HOPE, AR – Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative (SWAEC) in Hope, Arkansas, is bringing remote observation capabilities into early childhood special education classrooms in the region. Through a pilot program, “Buddy” is able to visit classrooms, interact with teachers and students, and move around the room. The robot is designed by Double Robotics and is the same model seen on TV in shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Modern Family.”


Recently, “Buddy,” sporting a “Children’s Week” t-shirt, visited a classroom in Texarkana where many students were enthralled by the robot. Some students, however, were a bit more hesitant. That is, until each student had a chance to come up and talk to Buddy face-to-face. Driving Buddy, from the SWAEC office in Hope, was SWAEC’s Early Childhood Coordinator, Karen Massey. She talked with the students, asking each one their name and then commenting on something specific to the child (the design on a shirt, for example). The demeanor of the students changed almost instantly. At that point, the robot became part of the background as far as the students were concerned. One autistic child, prone to distraction, performed his regular classwork, essentially ignoring the robot as he did.

 

After visiting with students in Texarkana, Buddy took a trip to Little Rock and appeared in front of the Special Education Task Force. While Buddy was in Little Rock, SWAEC Technology Coordinator, David Henderson, drove the robot from SWAEC offices in Hope. As a special treat, Buddy got to meet an autistic child at the panel. The child was shy at first, but eventually came over and asked about certain parts of the robot (the speaker/microphone) and laughed that the robot was wearing a shirt. As David talked to the student through the robot, the student became even more relaxed, showing off a crystal he had found at a local mine and even told “Buddy” a joke before returning to his mother.
 

The robot can be used by one driver and up to five viewers at the same time, so teachers and specialists can work together as they observe various behaviors, monitor progress, and remotely visit the classroom. By remotely visiting, various programs save money by cutting down on travel expenses and the time it takes to visit each site. SWAEC has media delivery services to each of its member districts, so Buddy can be placed at whichever site “he” will be needed for observation.
 

Double Robotics robots can also be used by homebound or hospital-bound students in higher grades. Students can drive the robot from home or the hospital, allowing them to remain active in the classroom, participate in lunch activities with their friends, and move about the hallways of their school. Likewise, the robots can be used by teachers who may be out of the classroom for extended periods of time. The teacher would drive the robot in the classroom, interacting with students live.

 

SWAEC is the exclusive partner for Double Robotics robots in Arkansas. Contact David Henderson, 870-777-3076 or david.henderson@swaec.org, for more information.
 

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