Buffalo, NY – It was a bit surprising when seven-year-old Devon Carrow told me that he wanted to be an architect when he grows up.
Most kids his age would say a super hero, a sports star or an astronaut. But then again, there is nothing normal about Devon.
He has severe food allergies — so severe that they can kill him. Simply sitting at the same table a fellow second grader ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just minutes before, could close his throat.
Not an easy life for this very social and very inquisitive young boy.
His illness has forced him to be confined to his home. A teacher from his Winchester Elementary School would visit him for home schooling and any kids who came over to play, had to shower and change their clothes.
That was until a WiFi-connected robot linked the computer in his home to a real classroom 10 kilometers away.
The director of special education for West Seneca school district found something called a VGo on the Internet.
It’s a $5000 robot designed to perform inventory for companies remotely. Think Skype on wheels.
But for Devon, think lifeline into real childhood.
He told me, “It changed me not going to school, to me going to school and being happy.”
I asked him why it makes him happy. “Because I want to be like every other kid.”
The robot allows two-way communication with a camera, small video screen and a speaker…and most importantly, wheels for remote control.
Devon tells his friends jokes as they walk into class in the morning, he hears stories at lunchtime and he is even able to shop for books at a sale in the gymnasium.
Granted, he does not get to touch the books or high-five with his friends, but he is able to talk to and interact with someone his own age. Something that was a rarity when he was younger but now, its just another Wednesday.
And for his classmates they don’t see a robot, they see the joke-cracking Devon.
In fact when he had a dangerous reaction and was sent to the hospital last year, his classmates made get well cards for him.
And according to his teacher, not one of the cards had the drawing of a robot. Just Devon’s smiling face.
His mom Rene sees a world of difference.
“With all of his struggles with all of his sicknesses and all the foods he cannot eat, he will still crack a joke on his worst day. So to see the other children see that in him. It was the best thing. It was like sending your kid off to college, sending him out the door, giving him the tools and knowing they worked.”