When Tess Messiha was prescribed three weeks’ bed rest by her physician during her pregnancy, she was worried she would have to take a leave of absence.
But the UC Irvine law student attended classes virtually in December with help from a robot she controlled from home. She could talk, listen and be called on during class discussions through her computer.
“It was cool,” Messiha said. “I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything. 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, though prices can vary for individual products, according to the Double Robotics website.
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 in person.
“The university went above and beyond to accommodate me,” she said. “Now it’s going really well.”