Dr. Mataric’s research focuses on using robots to teach social cues to children withautism. Children adapt far more quickly to the technology than adults and treat the machine like another classmate, she says. During a fire drill at one Texas school, students were so worried about the VGo that they insisted on escorting it out of the building to safety. […]For students like Connor Flanagan, 14, of Tyngsborough, Mass., the main benefit has been social interaction. He does not go to school because of a rare lung condition, but he has stayed in touch with friends while awaiting a transplant.“He walks down the hallway kind of like everybody else,” said his mother, Jennifer Flanagan. “The kids — aside the fact that it was a robot — they treated him like Connor. He’d roll through the room, and you’d hear ‘Hey, Connor. Hi, Connor.’ ”
Of course, at $6 thousand, plus regular maintenance costs, the robots are still prohibitively expensive for most schools. But as one professor noted, they are liable to become cheaper as time goes on and the technology becomes more widely available.This story is another reminder of technology’s power to change lives, allow the disabled and the elderly to participate more fully in society. Increasingly, new solutions like this are going to open up the workplace as well, allowing mothers to work from home (or to interact with their kids from work), opening more economic opportunity to the disabled and allowing older people to keep working longer even as their bodies become weaker.The possibilities are endless, and American schools, companies and other institutions need to seize the opportunity.