EMPOWERING THE HOMEBOUND

Much to Beam about

DENMARK • Thirteen-year-old Yusuf Warsame shows up for school in Frederiksburg every day, takes part in class and gets up to pranks like any of his classmates - but he is not actually there.

At home, about 3km away, Yusuf accesses and controls a robot called Beam - actually a small screen attached to a post which moves around on three wheels - from his computer.

So, even though he suffers from a genetic mutation that causes tumours to develop and requires that he is shielded from risks of infection, Yusuf can still attend school.

The brains behind the project are IT instructor Morten Jacobsen and teacher Francis Norgaard, who continue to further develop and calibrate Beam's properties.

Instead of merely observing, Yusuf can now write on the interactive whiteboard and participate in board games on the smart board, as well as swap his face on his screen with YouTube videos, much to his classmates' amusement.

"The benefit of this technology is that you can tell Yusuf is behaving as he would when he was physically present. He is still somewhat of a troublemaker," quipped Mr Jacobsen.

And with a portable modem attached to Beam, Yusuf can also go on class trips.

Instead of merely observing, Yusuf can now write on the interactive whiteboard and participate in board games on the smart board, as well as swap his face on his screen with YouTube videos, much to his classmates' amusement.

The two robot developers recently embarked on the next stage of development to ensure that Beam can be used by children with other needs, from those unable to attend school due to long-term illnesses, to the ones suffering from anxiety or phobias, or simply a broken leg.

"The robots are standard items, so it is important that we develop them and our approach to ensure that all children benefit from it. We concern ourselves with the challenges that the pupils face and finding solutions that improve their quality of life," Mr Jacobsen noted.

The two teachers see global potential in using robots in schools, and are sharing their experience through SingularityU Denmark, part of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think-tank that offers educational programmes and a business incubator.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Much to Beam about'. Print Edition | Subscribe