The latest robotic technology is helping a Kansas high school student go back to school while staying in his hospital bed.
It was a farm accident that hit everyone at Haven High School hard and left 16-year-old Kolton Kincaid with permanent injuries. But now, while in rehab in Denver, he can attend classes.
"He knows his way around the school, so he drove the robot to a classroom that he wanted to go to," said Cody Heitschmidt, spokesperson for ESSDACK, the company that provided the robot.
"Hey coach!" greets Kincaid as the robot swings into a classroom at Haven High in video shot by ESSDACK employees. "How you doing?"
"Oh, pretty good," answers his basketball coach. "How are you?"
Kincaid has been out of class since early November when an accident with a skid steer sent him to the hospital in critical condition. Now he's in Denver at a special rehab hospital, hundreds of miles from his family and friends.
"They were ecstatic that they got to see their classmate," said Haven High principal Marty Nienstedt about the robotic visit.
That was, until earlier this week when he was able to return to class, virtually.
"It's like he's walking around in school!" exclaimed one student on the video after talking to Kincaid.
"Do you feel like you're really here?" asked someone else, "being able to move yourself?"
"Sort of, halfway," said Kincaid. "I was never this clumsy!"
The crowd laughs at his comment.
ESSDACK is a Hutchinson education company that, among other things, tests technology for use in the classroom.
"Admittedly there's a lot of us here that are just tech gadget people," said Heitschmidt. An ESSDACK employee stumbled across the robots makers, Double Robotics, almost two years ago in Northern California. At the time, there was only one prototype robot. When the company went public, ESSDACK immediately bought one of the robots. Now it has several it's testing for various educational uses.
Many at the company know the Kincaid family personally and just wanted to help out. It was quickly suggested Kincaid be the first to actually use the robot in the classroom.
"It was about him being able to 'walk' the halls and shoot the breeze with his buddies at lunch and go see his teachers that he wanted to go see," said Heitschmidt.
ESSDACK took the idea to school leaders, who quickly agreed.
"I don't know that I would ever have even considered it," said Nienstedt. "It wasn't something I would have even thought of."
Anyone can learn to drive one of the robots. It's actually pretty easy. And it doesn't matter if you're hundreds or thousands of miles away, or right there in the same room. All you need is a free app that you download to an Ipad or an Iphone with a camera, plus the security code for the robot. The actual controls are a simple set of four arrows, forward, back, left and right. They're similar to a video game controller and easy to pick up.
"And Kolton just rolled into the lunchroom, found his buddies at the table they sit at and hung out with them," said Heitschmidt.
"It was a great boost, hopefully for him and also for all the other kids," said Nienstedt.
"See you, Kolton!" says his coach on the video, as Kincaid prepares to head to another classroom. "We'll see you in a little bit."
"Bye!" choruses the whole class.
The Kincaid family did not feel up to speaking directly with the media. In a written statement about the robot Kincaid's mother, Charity, said, "Kolton really enjoyed taking it through the hallways of HHS and seeing his buddies." Later in the statement she added, "I really enjoyed watching and listening to them visit as they walked down the hall together after class... Just (sic) like he was actually there with them!"
This weekend Kincaid will use the robot again to join his family at its annual Christmas gathering. He told his classmates in the video he hopes to be back in classes, in person, by mid to late January.