A school tale of two robots

A school tale of two robots


Isaac Asimov would be proud.

A New York teenager isn’t letting his stay in a hospital get in the way of his schooling. Using a unique combination of robotics, Achim Nurse, a 13-year-old from Valhalla, is keeping up with his studies despite being miles away in a hospital bed.

Mr. Spike and Mrs. Candy do all the heavy lifting, as it were. Mr. Spike is a robot who sits at Achim’s bedside, in Blythedale Children’s Hospital, while the boy recovers from complications due to a severe case of bacterial meningitis. Mrs. Candy is a robot who stands in for Achim at school. She sits in each class and even rolls through the halls between classes.

Achim can see what Mrs. Candy sees, and Mr. Spike can tell Mrs. Candy what Achim wants to say. Using this arrangement, Achim can interact with his teachers and with other students. Even more amazing than that, Mrs. Candy looks where Achim is looking. So if he’s looking out his hospital room window instead of paying attention, then his teachers will know.

The robots have disk-shaped heads that sport a 15-inch screen that shows the remote feed from each end of the transmission. The screens have zoom functions, so Achim can zero in on the classroom maps or blackboards. The wheelbase is 3 feet by 3 feet. The robots have hands, which they can raise in response to Achim’s or his teachers’ instructions. Also, each robot has a volume control.

Mr. Spike and Mrs. Candy are two of a group of 40 developed in Toronto and on loan to hospitals across the U.S. They are part of a program called PEBBLES (Providing Education by Bringing Learning Environments to Students).