October 27, 2016 5:51 pm
Updated: October 28, 2016 9:23 pm

Special robot gives kids stuck in hospital virtual freedom

WATCH ABOVE: Kids at Edmonton's Ronald McDonald House are getting to try out a very special communication robot. As Emily Mertz explains, it's helping kids stuck in hospital rooms to virtually transport themselves to somewhere else.

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It’s the next best thing to teleportation.

Simply put, the Double robot is an iPad on wheels that children in hospital can control remotely using an app. Their faces appear on the screen and they can see what the robot sees.

Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton has one on loan from two companies: Double Robotics and Cybera.

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“They love it. Now, I’ll admit there are a few kids who get a little nervous when they first see it coming down the hallway but for the most part, the kids absolutely adore it,” Suzanne Pescod, with the Ronald McDonald House, said.

They’ve even given the robot a name – Mrs. Nesbitt – and have started dressing it up in a yellow dress and big, floppy blue hat.

“We’ve been using it for a lot of creative reasons here,” Pescod said.

“Whether we’re connecting families across the country – sometimes across the globe – or making sure that kids get to visit the Magic Room even if they’re isolated in the hospital.”

The Magic Room is covered in art and filled with new toys for the kids battling illness. All the toys are donated by the community – some by companies, others by individual children who want to donate their birthday present.

“Over 19,000 families have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House,” Pescod said. “If you ask any kid, their favourite room is going to be the Magic Room.”

Using the robot, children who are in the hospital – sometimes in isolation for weeks – can remotely visit the room, pick out a toy and have it delivered to them.

“That robot has made a huge difference,” said Scottie Cartwright, whose seven-year-old son Jordan is receiving treatment for leukemia.

“It’s brought smiles to this here isolation department in the Stollery Children’s Hospital through the Ronald McDonald House.”

In addition to providing a link outside the hospital, the virtual Magic Room visit also offers a much-needed distraction.

“If anybody has seen that room, it’s no kidding, floor to ceiling, wall to wall… Walmart’s got nothing on that. Toys R Us has nothing on that place,” Cartwright said with a grin.

Jordan admitted being in the hospital is “sometimes boring,” but being able to operate a robot and pick out toys is “pretty cool.”

It’s also a way young patients can connect with others.

“All the kids here make a lot of friends with the kids in hospital,” Pescod said. “That way, they can celebrate birthdays with their friends in hospital or give them a pick-me-up. It’s a way for them to also create connections among people at the hospital.”

Jordan met 13-year-old Katelyn Murray on his unit. She is also battling leukemia.

“It’s hard being on isolation and stuff, being stuck in your room.

“Everybody has to gown up in yellow and wear gloves and sometimes masks,” Katelyn said. “It starts to get a bit depressing… It’s hard to be in the room for so long, just stuck.”

Enter: Mrs. Nesbitt.

“Getting to communicate with all the others at the Ronald McDonald House and get to pick a toy, that’s nice,” Katelyn said. “It makes me happier.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc

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