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‘Telepresence’ robots are making virtual school feel a little more like real school

Kubi Telepresence Robot

A number of schools across the country are trying the robotic technology out for the first time, including Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. This technology has become increasingly popular in K-12 classrooms during the pandemic, thanks to hybrid or blended learning models, where some students are in the classroom while others watch from home. The big difference between a robot and a conventional camera is that the robot follows action and sound — spinning as much as 360 degrees — so students at home can see more than a static shot of the classroom. The robots move in a variety of ways. Some come with tracking devices that teachers wear around their neck or leave in parts of the classroom, so the robot knows which direction to point its camera. Others follow the loudest sounds in the room. And the Kubi is controlled by students at home through a widget downloaded to a device such as an iPad or laptop. That’s what Pari Nanavaty, a junior at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Suffolk, Va., now uses for one of her classes. 

“I have the ability to adjust my view so I can see the board and what’s happening a lot better,” she says. “I don’t have to ask people what’s going on; I just move the camera. Now I feel more involved.”

Pari is the only student using the Kubi in her class; the manufacturer says that’s ideal to avoid a battle for control of the device, but it says that with planning, the device can be shared among students and also works well when shared among cohorts attending class on different days.

Adds Rajiv Nanavaty, Pari’s father: “For parents like my wife and I, who feel very strongly that virtual is the way to go, this is a great way to accommodate us and still keep students involved. Anything that makes things easier for students is great. I think we are in this for the long haul, and the more we integrate technology and the sooner we do it, the more we are serving students and keeping the rest of the community safe.”

Parents in the schools that are using the robots say they’re grateful for this new technology, and they believe the robots are also teaching students valuable lessons about resilience.

“There’s a larger lesson being taught here about adapting and pivoting and trying new things when the going gets tough,” Nanavaty says. 

Read the entire article by Jennifer Davis on washingtonpost.com.


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