Tiernan Kriner is eight years old, attends, Maine Memorial Elementary, and likes technology and robots. He’s also sick. Tiernan has Fanconi anemia, an inherited disease that makes him seven-hundred times more prone to cancer than the average person, as well as prone to bone marrow failure. This December, he’ll have a surgery to transplant marrow cells donated by his brother, a year older.

Recovery from bone marrow transplants is a long and precarious process. It’ll be impossible for the friendly third grader to attend school for most of the rest of this school year, or even to have his friends visit. A common cold could set his recovery back, or put him in serious danger.

In October, while this surgery was being planned, Maine Memorial approached Tiernan’s mother, Libby Kriner, about a new technology that would allow Tiernan to keep up with both his studies and his friends from his hospital bed. With the assistance of robotics company Broome-Tioga BOCES, they sourced the tall, thin, remotely controlled education robot for him. With two iPads and a special speaker, Tiernan can attend all of his classes via remote link. He has control over the boy-sized ‘bot, allowing him to navigate it around his school and replicate the feeling of being present. His friends greet it as if it were him, keeping him company.

Instead of just a simple video feed, it’s now you’re controlling it,” said Rick Bray, who is an instructional technology specialist at BTB. “You’re able to control those environments.”

The education robot is agile enough to wheel around a crowded classroom, can adjust its own height to put Tiernan’s feed face to face with people, and is versatile enough that he can even virtually go outside with his classmates at recess. But the most important feature is the social aspect. Tiernan, who won’t even be able to be in a room with his own brother for weeks after his surgery, will be able to be face to face with his school friends every day.

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