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Video: Robot helps ‘bubble boy’ make the grade

  1. Transcript of: Robot helps ‘bubble boy’ make the grade

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Back at 8:10. This morning on CURIOUS MEDICINE , a Texas teen who can't go to school because he has virtually no immune system . But he's still able to raise his hand in class and joke with his friends thanks to this robot . We're going to meet them both in just a moment, but first here's NBC 's Janet Shamlian .

    JANET SHAMLIAN reporting: Morning in Knox City , Texas . As the school day begins, 15-year-old Lyndon Baty starts his day at home.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY (High School Student With Rare Immune Disorder): This is my Baty bot.

    SHAMLIAN: The Baty bot is a four-foot-tall robot that allows Lyndon to attend school from home. In the aftermath of a kidney transplant and with almost no immune system , the risk of infection from others is so great Lyndon started being home-schooled last September.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: I had no social interaction with anybody. I just had no friends to talk to. I had nobody to be there for me.

    SHAMLIAN: Then the school district found a piece of technology that put Lyndon in class without putting him in danger.

    Ms. SHERI BATY (Lyndon's Mother): From the first day that Lyndon got to use this technology, the next day there was just an immediate change in his life. There was a reason for him to get up in the morning.

    SHAMLIAN: Now Lyndon can roll down the hall with his friends.

    Ms. KELSEY VASQUEZ (Lyndon's Classmate): Do you think you passed that Romeo and Juliet test yesterday?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: I know I passed. I know I got all my bonus points.

    SHAMLIAN: And teachers can share test results.

    Unidentified Man: Lyndon , can you focus in on that?


    SHAMLIAN: He operates the avatar with a click on the keyboard from his home computer .

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: I'm always having to beg someone in the middle of the hallways to, 'Hey, can you please open the door, open the door, open the door, I can't -- I don't have any arms.'

    SHAMLIAN: The $6,000 Vgo is often used in manufacturing, but this is the first time it's gone to school .

    Ms. BECKY JONES (Knox City High School Math Teacher): You can show him on the board, especially for math, because I can work the problems out, he can ask questions about what he doesn't understand.

    Ms. VASQUEZ: It's like him being there with us in class, like him really being there.

    SHAMLIAN: All plastic and circuit boards, it's given new purpose to a boy who's all heart and soul.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: It's the most amazing thing that's happened to me in a very long time.

    SHAMLIAN: For TODAY, Janet Shamlian , NBC News, Houston.

    VIEIRA: And Lyndon Baty is at home in Knox City , Texas , with his parents, Sheri and Lewis . Here with me is an exact replica of the Baty bot that Lyndon uses in school . Good morning to you all.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Good morning.

    Ms. BATY: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: Lyndon , I think this is so cool and I'm only sorry that we can't have you with us physically here in the studio, but I know that would be too risky because of your immune system being so compromised. How are you feeling, first of all?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Right now I'm feeling pretty good. I'm just being really nervous about this.

    VIEIRA: Oh, don't be nervous, don't be nervous at all. I want to give the audience a little bit of your back story, you were born with a kidney disease , polycystic kidney disease , and you had a transplant at the age of seven. You did great for the next eight years and then last year, around springtime, your body started to reject your kidney and your immune system at that point was suppressed, and you basically had to isolate yourself from all your friends, mostly spending time at home with your mom and dad . Your mom was home-schooling you. What was most of last year like for you?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: You know, mainly it was just kind of lonely and, you know, I didn't -- I wasn't -- I don't think I was really getting what I needed with the school because, yeah, my mom, she was doing good but, you know, you have to be actually in there, in the classroom to get the full effect and understand what's going on. And back there -- back -- or back then, you know, I just felt lonely, you know, I never got to see my friends . But now through my Baty bot, I know I can.

    VIEIRA: It's really changed your life dramatically, hasn't it?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Oh, yes, it's the most wonderful thing that's happened to me since my transplant.

    VIEIRA: And, mom, what does that feel like for you to hear that from your son?

    Ms. BATY: It's incredible. It's really exciting to see as a mom and just to see him light up every day to get to go to school and see his friends and interact in the classroom.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. And I know, Lewis , full disclosure here, you are the superintendent of your school district . How have the teachers responded to this? Has it been a distraction at all for them?

    Mr. LEWIS BATY: No, the teachers have been very supportive of the equipment. I think, you know, to start with, it was a little -- a little bit different, but now the teachers are very supportive and just consider it just another student in the class.

    VIEIRA: So Lyndon , I want to show the audience again how this works, I've got a Baty bot with me here. So with your computer on your lap now I want to talk to the Baty bot, OK? So now I'm going to talk to you through the robot itself. Hi, Lyndon .

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Can you hear me ?

    VIEIRA: I can hear you really well.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Hey.

    VIEIRA: So explain to us again what it's like going to school from home. You're actually controlling every movement of this robot .

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Yeah, it's just like I'm being there except, you know, I'm not being there but, you know, when I'm home, you know, I feel -- I actually feel like I'm at school and, you know, if I was at school , you know, I could be running the risk of getting sick. But if I wasn't at school , if I -- since I'm not at school and -- but yet I am in school , you know, and I am staying healthy with the Baty bot.

    VIEIRA: Absolutely.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: I keep -- I keep saying that I can be two places at once.

    VIEIRA: You sure can. But is there anything that you miss about not being physically at school that the robot can't do for you?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Well, it's kind of different when you're at school because, you know, you can actually -- you know, you can actually see the body. You know -- you know, yeah, I can see the body, but you actually -- I mean you actually see a person, you know, touch them or something like that. You know -- you know, I can't do that through my screen but, you know, it -- I am staying healthy and that is what's most important.

    VIEIRA: Absolutely. And I know that you're now interested in journalism and writing, because of the robot you're able to take some extracurricular courses. So I want to take you on a little tour here of Studio 1A . Come with me. Can you see me ? OK.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Yep.

    VIEIRA: Now folks, understand that Lyndon is controlling this robot . We're going to walk this way. I want to show you something. Got it? Can you walk this way?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Yep. I might beat you there.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. There you go. Over here. Do you see what's in front of me?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Yep.

    VIEIRA: You know what that is?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Nope.

    VIEIRA: That's Matt Lauer 's desk, his chair, and he's not in it. How would you like to take it over one day?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Right now.

    VIEIRA: Here he comes, he's panicking! He's -- ah, Lyndon , darn, darn!

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Dang it! I should -- I mean I should have taken it when I had the chance.

    VIEIRA: Exactly, Lyndon .

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Go back! Go back!

    VIEIRA: Lyndon , such a pleasure to have you here. What is next for you by the way, kiddo, are you on the list now for another transplant?

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Right now, not yet, but yes, I will eventually have to have another transplant. When my bot -- or my kidney is functioning at 20 percent I will be listed for another transplant. And then when it -- when it goes down to 15 percent I will be going on dialysis.

    VIEIRA: Well, we wish you the very best, Lyndon , we really do. And Matt 'll keep the seat warm for you.

    Mr. LYNDON BATY: Thank you. It really means a lot.

    VIEIRA: OK. You take care, sweetheart. Sheri and Lewis as well, thank you so much . And we'll be back right after this. Where am I looking, over here? I don't know to look at the robot , look at the camera.

updated 2/17/2011 9:47:40 AM ET 2011-02-17T14:47:40

Because the slightest cold virus could kill him, Lyndon Baty almost never leaves the house, but science has found a way to let the 15-year-old Texas boy go to school — at least virtually.

A robot avatar now goes to classes and wanders school hallways for Lyndon, who had been forced to stay in isolation at his home in Knox City ever since his immune system was wiped out due to complications from kidney disease. The teen controls his avatar robot through the laptop on his desk at home, guiding it to classes and telling it to turn to face people when they speak to him.

Lyndon still wonders at the changes the robot has brought. “It’s the most wonderful thing that’s happened to me since my transplant,” he told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. “It’s like being there. I feel like I’m at school. I keep saying it’s like being in two places at the same time.”

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Lyndon suffers from a rare disorder, polycystic kidney disease, that caused his kidneys to swell to three times their normal size, which squeezed his stomach and put a strain on his body. When he was 5 he had his kidneys removed. When he was 7, Lyndon got a transplant and for the next eight years, he was able to lead a normal life.

But things started to go bad in 2010. First his body started to attack the transplanted kidney, then his immune system was supressed to stem rejection of the organ. Lyndon had to give up school and pretty much any activity outside the house for fear of catching a germ that would be innocuous to the rest of us, but might easily kill him.

Although he had his parents for company, Lyndon longed for friends. “I had no social interaction with anybody,” he told NBC's Janet Shamlian. “I had no friends to talk to, nobody to be there for me.”

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But now, a 4-foot-tall chrome and steel robot takes Lyndon’s place in classes and allows him to interact with teachers and fellow students. His face is displayed on a screen near the top of the robot and his voice is projected through its speakers. Lyndon can see and hear everyone through signals transmitted to his laptop from the robot’s camera. It's like a video conference — on a robot.

Lyndon showed Vieira how the technology works, piloting a similar robot around the TODAY Show studio from his home in Texas. When Vieira invited him to follow her over to the window on Rockefeller Center, Lyndon challenged her to a race. “I might beat you there,” he said, sending the robot rolling towards Matt Lauer’s desk.

Lyndon can see only one problem with his robot avatar. “I’m always having to beg someone in the middle of the hallways to please open the door,” he said. “I don’t have any arms.”

As far as his medical future, Lyndon is hoping to get on a kidney transplant list once his kidney function falls below a certain threshhold. For now, he's thrilled to be able to attend high school through his robot. “Before I just felt lonely,” Lyndon told Vieira. “I never got to see any of my friends. Now with the Baty Bot I can.”

Lyndon’s mom, Sheri Baty, sees the difference in her son since the robot came into his life. “It’s incredible,” she told Vieira. “It’s really exciting as a mom to see him light up every day to get to see his friends and interact in the classroom.”

The technology that changed Lyndon’s life costs about $6000. It seems a small price to pay to get a lonely boy back to school.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints


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