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Robot avatar allows sick boy to go to school

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.”

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.”

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.

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