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Robot Introduces Deployed Soldier to Baby Boy

By Cheryl Harrison
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, April 18, 2008 – A robot normally used by doctors to perform work remotely allowed a soldier in Baghdad to virtually interact with his newborn son in Texas for the first time.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Displayed on the screen of a laptop computer in Baghdad, baby Blake Lloyd, on Fort Sam Houston, Texas, “meets” his daddy for the first time. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Kay McKinnie
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

An RP-7 Remote Presence Robotic System, wireless, mobile, remote-presence robot that allows a doctor to be in two places at once, allowed Army Staff Sgt. Erik Lloyd to meet his seven-day-old boy Blake on April 10.

The RP-7 can move untethered, allowing a remote physician seated at a control station to freely interact with patients, family members and hospital staff from anywhere, anytime.

In this case, the robot gave Lloyd the opportunity to interact with Blake and with his wife, Kristie. Because of his deployment, Lloyd had missed Blake’s April 4 birth.

Lloyd is assigned to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research here, and he is currently serving with the Deployed Combat Casualty Research Team, located with 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

While Lloyd looked through a computer screen in Iraq, his wife Kristi and members of the institute’s staff gathered around an RP-7 in a conference room at Brooke Army Medical Center here, to introduce the soldier to his baby boy.

“So, who do we have here?” said Lloyd from Baghdad, panning the monitor of the robot around to see everyone gathered around the 5-and-a-half-foot tall robot.

Lloyd used a joystick connected to a laptop to control the robot’s advanced digital camera to zoom in and focus on his son. The camera’s high resolution, which normally allows a physician at the control station to read monitor screens or printouts, allowed the soldier to clearly focus on his son’s features.

“Hey! Is he asleep? Poke him to wake him up. Hold his head so we can get a picture from our end,” said Lloyd playing with the controls and making the most of the robot’s capabilities.

Between the “ooohs” and “aaahs” over the 2-week-old infant, Lloyd kept a grin on his face and eyes on his son. He asked Kristie questions about his son and conducted conversations with other members of the group in the room, while using the robot’s controls to look at people around the room.

“He’ll be walking and potty trained by the time I get back, right?” joked Lloyd, who is due to return home in six months.

Lloyd said he was delighted to have the opportunity to see his son in a way that allowed him to have control over the interaction.

“It was such a wonderful experience to be able to actively interact with my wife while she was able to show me our son for the first time,” Lloyd said. “I was able to control the robot and actually move around the room a bit to get a different perspective than what a conventional video camera would have allowed.”

Lloyd said he was grateful to his leadership and his units for allowing him to have this experience.

“I am very appreciative of the command groups, both here at the 86th CSH and the Institute of Surgical Research, for allowing me to utilize this amazing piece of technology. It is really a wonderful feeling to be part of two commands that know how to take care of their soldiers and their families in a time of need.” Lloyd said.

“It was an awesome experience. I am far from the first father in this conflict who has missed the birth of their child. … However, with this technology I was in a small way allowed to feel more like I was part of a family than I had been … since he was born,” Lloyd said.

Kristie said she was also impressed with the robot’s capabilities and what it allowed her husband to experience.

“I talk to him every day, and he demands pictures all the time. We use a Webcam but the connection isn’t good,” Kristie Lloyd said. “But this was great. Erik was playing with the controls and trying to figure out how to use the robot.”

Unlike Lloyd, Army Maj. Kevin Chung, medical director for the burn intensive care unit at Brooke, is an expert on using the robot. So much so, in fact, that members of the staff have nicknamed the robot “Chungbot.” Chung uses it from home, while on leave, temporary duty assignments, or while at conferences from outside of the state in order to have access to the Intensive Care Unit. When outside the ICU, Chung is available to the ICU via the robot.

Chung said Lloyd was “amazed at the technology and the clarity of the video link” and really benefitted from the experience.

“The interaction they had was amplified by his ability to move the robot around and zoom in and out with the camera. He was able to see his son close up. Granted nothing is better than being there in person, but given the circumstances with him being half a world away, this technology allowed him to be ‘remotely’ present with his newly expanded family.”

Chung added that “the entire session was very emotional for all those who had the opportunity to witness the remote interaction.”

(Cheryl Harrison works for the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Erik Lloyd's face is displayed through an RP-7 robot at Brook Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston, Textas, as he interacts with his wife and newborn son from Baghdad. U.S. Army photo by Cheryl Harrison  
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