Getting a view of the Steel City
Robot gives Manchester kids a virtual zoo tour
Mia Katane, a preschooler is helped by Angela Paris, with VGo in Nashua, as she operates the robot remotely, during the virtual Pittsburgh Zoo tour by students at Little Frogs & Polliwogs Daycare, with help from Verizon Wireless and VGo, a remote robot built in Nashua, in Manchester, on Wednesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
They visited the zoo while seated on their classroom floor at Little Frogs & Polliwogs, 3011 Brown Ave.
The duo explained the robot can't climb stairs, but can go anywhere the operator wants on a level surface. The robot, which weighs just 18 pounds with its rechargeable six-hour battery, allows two-way streaming.
They asked Katie how fast penguins can swim (as fast as a dolphin), what happens if the penguins don't catch the fish the zoo staff toss in the water (the fish are "fished out" and given to the penguins on land), do penguins have teeth (no, they have barbs on their tongues that help propel the whole fish down their throats), do they sleep standing or on their bellies (they can do either, but they don't sleep for hours like people do. They just take naps).
While the the children could see and hear Katie and the penguins, the robot couldn't provide some qualities of an in-person visit. "You couldn't smell them or feel how cold it is," she said, explaining the enclosure is kept at 42 degrees.
Lorelai Randlett, 5, asked: "Why are they named Macaroni?" Katie said the yellow feathers reminded the people who first saw them of the song "Yankee Doodle" that goes: "He put a feather in his cap and called it macaroni."
Six-year-old Brandon Nguyen was in charge of the mouse when the robot took the children to see the turtles and learn about them from Jen. "Hi, Jen," the children called out, waving at the screen. Some of the turtles were in tanks of water, include a sea turtle whose shell was cut in a boating incident. "He's learning to swim again," said Jen.
How old is that turtle? One year old. Is it a boy or a girl? It's too soon to tell. How far do sea turtles travel? Jen said some of them ride the Gulf Stream up and down the East Coast. She said satellite tags are put on turtle's shells before they are released and most last about a year before they fall off as the shells grow. She said Ghostbuster traveled about 10,000 miles in the year before his tag fell off.
While the Verizon Foundation provided the robot to the Pittsburgh Zoo, which provides interactive zoo tours three times a month, the robot is used more often in business, health care and education.
While it seems costly, Murphy said one VGo in a school could serve several children in one day, giving each student the opportunity to interact with classmates and teachers with their face and voice in the actual classroom for a couple of hours. He said it would be paid for out of the special education budget.
Murphy said Nashua-based VGo was among the companies invited to the Verizon innovation center in Waltham, Mass. The goal is to collaborate, adding wireless technology to the companies' products. "We incubate them," said Murphy.
The basic VGo robot costs $6,000, with a $1,200 annual subscription. The 4G LTE version, which requires Verizon service, is $6,900. The robot comes with a rechargeable six-hour battery, but Paris said a 12-hour battery is available.
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