By Shawn Chitnis

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Students at the University of Colorado returned to the Boulder campus this week with access to a new program called Kubi. It operates a robotic device that can take their place in the classroom if they’re injured and unable to physically be in the room.

“A lot of students ran into unexpected circumstances often times and there’s kind of a support gap for those students,” said Tarah Dykeman, CU’s Kubi service manager. “They might be in a car accident, they may need surgery, ill all of a sudden and that takes them out for a semester.”

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The university has 15 Kubi devices available to students that qualify for the program. The service is provided at no cost to those that may be injured or ill as well as leaving town for a family emergency. The device is a robotic neck that connects to a tablet and syncs with Bluetooth technology. It will make a huge impact on students who would otherwise withdraw for a term because they cannot keep up with their classes.

“I think that it shows that CU cares about it students,” Dykeman said. “We’re putting in extra effort to support students that are going through a tough time usually and helping them to stay on track with their educational goals.”

(credit: CBS)

Even though some classes have webcams, Dykeman says this is an enhanced experience because the professor and other students can see the user’s face and the student outside of the classroom can see them back. Microphones allow everyone to talk to each other and the device can rotate almost 360 degrees or tilt up or down. The range in motion, controlled by their laptop, helps the student feel more connected to their peers and follow what is happening in the room. But students that are too ill to mentally keep up with the coursework would not be a good fit for the program. If someone is suffering from the flu, staff say they are better off resting and recovering than using a Kubi to keep up with class.

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“It helps students that could fall through the cracks, it could be any student on campus,” said Doris Cheung, Learning Experience Designer for CU Boulder.

A pilot program begin in the spring of 2016 with just one device to see if this could help a larger population on campus. An innovation grant from the university funded the expansion of the experiment. The challenge from administrators was for departments to work together and collaborate on a project that could have the impact the Kubi service hopes to provide for students. The Office of Information Technology purchased 10 sets and looked at students not only with a physical injury but also athletes away from campus or students close to graduating but still completing their degrees. The service could also help students studying abroad, according to staff.

(credit: CBS)

“The reason this was a success story was the particular team was able to face the challenge that came their way,” said Kristine Alipit, Innovation Program Manager at CU Boulder.

(credit: CBS)

Not only were school leaders looking for innovation but also a chance to highlight the work of staff at the university. The contest asked for proposals to fund an experiment that not only partnered different departments but also various areas of expertise. The team behind the Kubi service succeeded because they were able to adapt the project to students needs. CU plans to encourage more experiments with future innovation contests on campus.

“It’s extremely important of us to acknowledge and celebrate innovation within the walls of the university and with staff,” said Alipit. “The future is coming.”

LINK: Read More About Kubi Remote Presence Technology

The IT website at CU has more information on the Kubi Device. You can also read a flyer from CU about the program.

Shawn Chitnis

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