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Robot 'Joe' will be student's eyes, ears in Bow fifth-grader's classroom

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 16. 2014 8:30PM
Andrew Burgher will attend school without leaving home. (COURTESY)

When Andrew Burgher heads back to school next week, the Bow fifth-grader will shuttle between classrooms, hang out in the cafeteria and joke with his friends.

But he won't even leave his house.

The 10-year-old will attend classes with help from "Joe," a 4-foot robot on wheels offering two-way video communications via a mounted screen.

"It's basically him as a virtual student in the classroom," said his mother, Erika.

Andrew, home due to complications from cerebral palsy, is excited about school starting Aug. 27.

"He's looking forward to being able to catch up with friends," she said.

Bow Elementary School, which Andrew attended last school year, as well as the general community rallied around the boy to raise online the $6,000 needed to buy the robot from a Nashua company, VGo Communications.

"The fourth grade did a tremendous job of fundraising to earn the money for the robot," said Adam Osburn, principal Bow Memorial School, where Andrew will start this month. "It was a big community event. It was a special thing."

Local businesses offered gifts as prizes to encourage donations on

Thomas Ryden, co-founder and chief operating officer at VGo, said the company has sold hundreds of the robots for kids to attend classes. Students stuck at home want their robot to look good."A big thing for boys is to put a football jersey on the robot," Ryden said.

Andrew is going with the tie-dye shirt.

Company CEO and President Peter Vicars recalled one lunch room incident in Texas where a student pushed a sandwich into the face of the robot's screen.

"Its just like ... if the child had been there," Vicars said.

No one expects that in Bow.

Mrs. Burgher said the technology amazing her."It makes us look forward to what's going to be available in 10 years," she said. "Technology is moving so fast. What technology is going to be available to help him down the road?"Last school year, Andrew was able to hook up via the Internet for some video interaction with his classmates. But a mobile robot opens up many new doors, figuratively of course since Joe has no arms.

Last spring, Andrew received Joe in time to use it for a few weeks before summer vacation.

A school aide will drive Joe at first, but Andrew's mother expects her son will take over the controls soon.

Andrew was able to participate in "presentation night," where students talked about a school project.

Joe wore a shirt and tie.

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