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Roving robot lets UCI student attend classes virtually while on bed rest

Roving robot lets UCI student attend classes virtually while on bed rest
UC Irvine law student Tess Messiha, pictured at center on the tablet, attended classes virtually via a robot after being prescribed bed rest by her physician. (Courtesy of UCI Law)

When Tess Messiha was prescribed three weeks' bed rest during her pregnancy, she was worried she would have to take a leave of absence from school.

But the UC Irvine law student attended classes virtually in December with the help of a robot she controlled from home. She could talk, listen and be called on during class discussions through her computer.

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"I didn't feel like I missed out on anything," Messiha said. "It's the next best thing to being in class."

The "telepresence" robot, called the Double 2, is made by Burlingame-based technology company Double Robotics. It's essentially a tablet computer mounted on a scooter-like dual kickstand that stands 4 feet tall and can extend.

The robot is self-balancing, with six- to eight-hour battery life. It sells for about $3,000.

Members of UCI's class of 2016 used their senior class gift to buy four telepresence robots for the university.

Law and political science professor Rick Hasen described the experience with the Double 2 as unusual, but said it helped instill camaraderie in his class.

In past years, Hasen said, classes would be recorded and students would watch later and email him with questions.

"It wasn't bad, but this was much better," Hasen said.

Messiha is the second student to use the robot, according to Somphone Eno, assistive technology manager for the UCI Disability Services Center, which dispatches the device when needed.

Messiha could have navigated the robot around campus with her computer keyboard's arrow keys, but Eno said university staff decided to pick it up and take it to her next class or a charging station to prevent wear and tear.

Messiha recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy and is now back in class.

"The university went above and beyond to accommodate me," she said. "Now it's going really well."

Vega writes for Times Community News

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