Robot helps Va. mother attend daughter's graduation along with her own on same day

Have you ever wished that you could be in two places at one time? A proud Virginia mother had two very important engagements in two different cities in one day. But with help of a robot, she was able to experience both events.

"It's been a very proud year for our family," said Erica Cohen.

Her family has three graduates this year. Her son is getting his high school diploma, her daughter is graduating with an undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and Erica herself is getting a master's degree from George Mason University.

But Erica had a problem.

"[My daughter] was graduating the exact same day that I was graduating from George Mason," she said. "Two different places, 250 miles apart. I thought, ‘Okay, I'm a mom. I'm willing to give up my graduation.'"

But it turned out, she didn't have to. George Mason University professor Peggy Weiss had an idea.

"She said, 'How would you like to go as a robot?'"

A robot?

"I thought it was crazy," she told us.

It was the good kind of crazy though. Erica attended her daughter's graduation at noon on May 16 in Blacksburg. Then she raced out the door.

"I sat in a nice air conditioned room, put my cap and gown on," Erica said.

Erica was able to sit among the graduates for the ceremony as a robot called VGo was there on the floor at the Patriot Center.

"I sat on the aisle and I was able to watch the whole graduation from where I was," she said. "I could zoom in, so I had a better view of the keynote than anybody else."

We talked to Professor Weiss via VGo. It was my first-ever interview with a robot.

Weiss got the idea because some of her students have used VGo to virtually attend class.

"They've broken a leg, they've had surgery, there is a variety of reasons that they can't make it to class, but they still want to come to class," she told us.

Kristine Neuber runs George Mason University's Assistive Technology Lab.

"Think about somebody who might be a quadriplegic," she said. "They have to spend a lot of time at home. With something like this, they can go out with their friends. They can walk on the pier or on the beach and the boardwalk -- wherever they want to go."

VGo was paid for the grant from the Kellar Institute. It runs on a cellular network. Like humans, you do have to recharge the battery.

Erica was a little worried VGo would steal some of the spotlight from her daughter's graduation.

"I actually sent her a text saying, ‘I just want to thank you for sharing this day with me,'" said Erica. "And she said it made it better for me than it could have been by getting to share it with you."

There is nothing impersonal or robotic about that.

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