Drake Student Uses Robot to Take Classes While Living in L.A.

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Don’t worry, robots aren’t taking over the world, but they are starting to take classes.

Sarah Perkins was studying educational leadership at Drake University, but when the opportunity to move to Los Angeles came about, continuing her education became an obstacle.

“Initially I was flying back and forth, I would fly out Friday night on an overnight flight, be in class Saturday and Sunday, and fly back Sunday night to be in class on Monday,” said Perkins.

Unable to find a similar class in California, she tried Skype and Facetime, until Professor Trent Grundmeyer came up with a better solution: a robot Sarah could control from home with an iPad attached to it. The iPad has a speaker and webcam so Sarah can hear and speak to the other students in class.  What’s more, it’s on wheels, so Sarah can move around the classroom and interact in a group setting.

“It’s a little bit different, but what I appreciate about it unlike a zoom or a webinar is that it’s mobile and it’s interactive and it’s exactly why I purchased and leveraged the robot in class, so that students can participate more fully,” said Professor Grundmeyer.

“It’s interesting because I can talk to groups, join in, I can walk down the hallway with people, or roll down the hallway I guess,” said Perkins.

The robot, from San Francisco-based Double Robotics, connects via Bluetooth, and the student using the device controls it with a computer. The idea is starting to spread across the country.

“Montana is using it in a principal prep program, and so I would see it expanding in future years because the pilot has been successful here in my program,” said Grundmeyer.

Sarah loves the robot, who her classmates have named “Trebek.” However, she does have some requests for an upgrade.

“I think it would be great to have arms so I could, like, dance, or shake hands, I think that’d be fun,” said Perkins.

Jokes aside, Trebek has allowed Sarah to start a family in California and continue her academics in Iowa.

“I can access the same content everyone else is doing, I can still be in class, I can still have discussions, I can move around and talk with everyone, and I don’t have to give up the education that I really, really value,” she said.

Each robot costs around $3,000. Valley High School just purchased one to help students with long-term illnesses keep up in class.