Robot helps 7-year-old boy with severe allergies thrive at school

(Photo courtesy VGo Communications)A robot is helping a young New York boy attend classes — from five miles away.

Devon Carrow, 7, has severe allergies. He suffers from eosinophilic esophagitis disease, anaphylactic shock syndrome, respiratory distress syndrome and asthma. One accidental exposure to any of his many food allergies can land him in the hospital, surrounded by an oxygen tent.

His diet is so restricted — he can eat little more than potato, corn and apple products — that the 7-year-old still drinks infant formula and supplements his meals with hypoallergenic Neocate four times a day.

"He's almost like the boy in a bubble," Devon's mother, René, told the Buffalo News. "I try to let him do some things. I want him to have the best life he could have."

Devon's allergies are too severe to allow him at attend school. But thanks to a VGo telepresence robot, he remains at the head of his second-grade glass at Winchester Elementary School in West Seneca, New York.

With the VGo, Devon can greet his classmates. He can lead his class in the Pledge of Allegiance. He can deliver notes from the classroom to the main office. And he does all this from home.

"He is really nice to us," Devon's classmate Jason Green, 7, told the Buffalo News.

"And, he's very smart," added fellow student Riley Boody. "Every time the teacher asks us something, Devon puts his light on and answers. And, he's funny."

Devon uses his computer to manipulate the VGo from home. The robot is equipped with two-way audio and video, allowing Devon to see the chalkboard, and communicate with his teacher and classmates. The robot, which stands at about the height of the other students, moves on Segway-like wheels.

In fact, the VGo is known as Devon in the classroom, with students accepting the robot as the young boy's surrogate.

"The only thing that's different is Devon is not in the classroom. He's required to do everything every other kid does in the class," René said. "He doesn't get any specialized individual attention."