Meet REX: The Robot Giving Children’s Mercy Patients a Field-side Seat to Sporting KC
The atmosphere at Children’s Mercy is vibrant, colorful and engaging – dedicated to letting kids be kids, even when they’re in the middle of a long-term inpatient stay or a series of hospitalizations.
“We know that children in the hospital who engage in therapeutic play exhibit less emotional distress, increased cooperation and fewer negative physiological responses to hospitalization and illness,” said Missy Stover, CCLS, the manager of Children’s Mercy’s Child Life volunteer & therapeutic programs, which work to make the hospital experience easier and more comfortable for patients and their families.
In an effort to expand these ideals outside the hospital’s walls, Children’s Mercy is collaborating with Sporting Kansas City to bring an exciting aspect of Child Life to the soccer stadium – it’s name is REX.
Providing a Unique Experience
REX, a remote experience robot consisting of an iPad on a pole with a pair of self-balancing wheels, lets patients experience Major League Soccer in a way that even kids physically attending the games aren’t able to.
“We’ve partnered with Sporting Kansas City to give the kids a unique experience. We’re taking them out to the soccer game and letting them see some behind-the-scenes activities, getting them pretty close to the field, and letting them go places they wouldn’t be able to go even if they had their own tickets,” said John Baker, Sr. Network Analyst in the hospital’s Telemedicine and Video department.
When Children’s Mercy began its long-term partnership with Sporting Kansas City in 2015, one of the primary goals of the alliance was to strengthen Sporting’s outreach to the community by helping children get the support and resources they need to survive and thrive while dealing with difficult diagnoses.
“Being able to engage with other people and attend a sporting event is ‘normal,’ and for kids that are unable to leave their room, this technology is a great way to bring some normalization to their otherwise isolated world. The patient has total control over the robot and can make choices about where they want to go and who they want to interact with. This is so empowering for kids who might be feeling like they don’t have much choice or control over their healthcare experience,” said Stover.
Putting Patients in Control
When patients are in control of REX, they’re able to see live video and hear what’s going on around the stadium. “From the iPad, they’re able to drive the robot forward or backward, turn left and right, even get taller or shorter to have a better look around – similar to what you would see in a video game,” explains Baker.
REX, manufactured by Double Robotics, also features lateral stability control to navigate uneven ground and small obstacles, power drive mode that allows it to go up to 80% faster over longer distances, an always-on floor view camera for increased special awareness, and a 150 degree wide-angle lens that increases the user’s field of view by 70% to the left and right, so kids can see much more of the park than they could with a standard iPad camera.
The operating technology is familiar enough to children that they’re able to operate REX easily, with almost no learning curve. iPad in hand, they can virtually watch the team warm up, interact with the players and ask them questions, and forget where they are – even if just for a while.
Kaylee Brown was one of the first Children’s Mercy patients to test the technology. “The coolest part was probably meeting the player,” she said. “I also got to see my brother who was there at the game. I don’t get to go to very many games, so I thought that was fun to actually see him there and know that I was there too.”
REX debuts as the first technology of its kind to be used at a major league event when Sporting KC hosts the Seattle Sounders on May 17, 2017. One Children’s Mercy patient will have a near all-access pass to the revelry, feeling like a part of the stadium crowd, all from a hospital bed more than 15 miles away.