Four years after Sheldon Cooper created a Mobile Virtual Presence Device (MVPD) on the television series “Big Bang Theory,” Letcher County Public Schools has a similar robot.
Instead of “Shelbot” roaming around Caltech, The Cheesecake Factory and Sheldon’s apartment in Pasadena, Calif., the Letcher district has the cougar bot.
The Double telepresence robot provides a way for students with long-term illnesses and other students enrolled in the district’s homebound program to stay connected with classmates and see what is going on in the classroom while remaining at home.
“We want kids invested in their own learning and this is a way to do that,” said Twyla Messer, Letcher assistant superintendent. “Good teaching is good teaching and we want to be innovative in the way it is presented.”
Harry Collins, the district’s homebound teacher, will work with principals to decide the $2,500 robot’s schedule.
Messer has an app installed on her smartphone that she uses to operate the robot. Students will use an iPad to control the robot and view the classroom. A second iPad located on the robot shows the student’s face.
A student or staff member will be assigned to escort the robot through school buildings to make sure the device gets to the right locations. Messer said it is difficult to maneuver the device down stairs.
“It is very durable, but it is breakable,” said Messer.
Like Shelbot, a T-shirt can hang from the front of the cougar bot. Depending on what school the device is roaming around, the robot will wear a shirt with school colors.
The robot isn’t limited for use with just the homebound program.
“We want kids to take initiative with it and come up with ideas for it to be used at school,” said Messer. “I think it has a lot of possibilities.”
Principals can monitor hallways with the robot. Letcher Supt. Tony Sergent could visit schools without leaving his office.
“I can be in Lexington and attend a meeting,” said Messer.
The robot is funded by a federal grant awarded to Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative’s (KVEC) Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI). Jenkins Independent Schools and districts in Knott, Perry and Pike counties also received a Double telepresence robot from ARI.
Messer said the district plans to complete a oneyear trial run with the mobile device and then decide whether or not to purchase a robot for each school in the district with ARI funding.