Increasingly across the country, schools are turning to telepresence robots to allow students to attend school even though they have various kinds of medical challenges (e.g. in cancer treatment, waiting for a transplant so cannot get an infection). Children as young as 7 can navigate the halls, come to class, turn in assignments, etc. Most importantly, however, is their ability to mingle with their friends.
The downside is that occasionally children bully the robot–putting mustard on the screen face (which the remote child cannot see), putting a “kick me” sign on the back, calling a particularly sensitive high school girl “the vacuum cleaner.” But because the remote child’s friends treated the bullied robot as if it were the actual child, they organized “posses” to protect the victim. These are the kinds of real-life social experiences that make the remote children feel included and growing with their friends.
Additionally, because there are a number of telepresence robots on the market and they differ in features (e.g. whether they can “point” to an object with a laser pointer), we are constructing a framework of features that the psychological literature say matter in real-life interactions. Using another framework to describe the setting in which the robot is to be used (e.g. workplaces, hospitals, schools), our goal is to advise potential users of the robots to select the model with the features that best suit the situation.