Telepresence robot helps 5-year-old with leukemia keep up with class

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

CHICAGO -- 5-year-old Lucas Cervone is battling leukemia for a second time.

He’s a student at Prieto Math and Science Academy on the Northwest Side but since Nov 11, his illness has kept him at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Courage beads draped over his I.V.  represent the nearly 10,000 procedures or milestones Lucas has endured since 2012.

Now his teachers came up with the telepresence robot from California-based Double Robotics.

"The whole premise behind that is to allow this robot to take your place wherever you are," says Anthony Cervone, Lucas’ dad.

Enter Robolucas or Bearbot. Bear is Lucas' nickname at home. Right now he and his classmates are trying to settle on a name for the boys' new wheels that keep him rolling with his class.

Different from an iPad, different from Facetime in some very crucial ways, physically,and for Lucas, emotionally.

"With the Double, that remote person feels truly autonomous. I can move it's head up and down, pivot, turn left and right to talk to people and really interact with people and feel like you are actually there,” says Sara Broyles of Double Robotics.

Kindergarteners at Prieto are fascinated by this self-balancing robot with wheels, a kickstand, audio and live video of their classmate Lucas.

Lucas lights up when he sees them, especially one student he hasn't been able to see much of since his stem cell transplant last fall.

The procedure has compromised Lucas' immune system and has kept him in the hospital, away from others.

“I like that excitement he gets, even when he sees (his brother) Franco. He doesn't get to see him everyday because we're here. At least he is there with him in school and Franco knows if the robot if walking around, that is Lucas,” says Rina Cervone, Lucas' mom.

Using an app, Lucas uses arrow keys to direct the robot from his iPad, a user can even do it from a mobile phone.

With his headphones on, Lucas is quite literally participating in music class today miles away from school. He's in control. Not the people on the other end. For his teachers their greatest reward:

"That Lucas is back in school with us. Lucas is back in school with us," says Sari Freier, a Prieto teacher.

But getting this telepresence robot wasn't easy or cheap, so Prieto teachers decided to raise some money with what schools across the country refer to as penny wars - a loose change competition among students pre-K through 8 that raked in almost $8,000 in 8 days.

It’s enough for 2 robots for Lucas.

"Kids are just so pure and innocent and they understand at the most basic level that Lucas has cancer for the 2nd time and he's the strongest person we've ever met. So anything we can do in the classroom community to help him, is what we want to do,” says Aubrey Perlee, Lucas' teacher.