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A Boy AND HIS Bot
GARY SMITH
August 01, 2011
LYNDON BATY WANTS TO BE A GREAT SPORTSCASTER, BUT HOW CAN HE DO THAT WITH A RAVAGED IMMUNE SYSTEM THAT MAKES IT TOO DANGEROUS FOR HIM EVEN TO GO TO SCHOOL? ENTER, A ROBOT
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August 01, 2011

A Boy And His Bot

LYNDON BATY WANTS TO BE A GREAT SPORTSCASTER, BUT HOW CAN HE DO THAT WITH A RAVAGED IMMUNE SYSTEM THAT MAKES IT TOO DANGEROUS FOR HIM EVEN TO GO TO SCHOOL? ENTER, A ROBOT

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"Yeah, thanks!" the bot replied.

It bumped into two chair legs as it entered the science class, reversed, made a few slick spin moves, then settled in behind the last row of desks.

Everything within range of its camera lens and four microphones—the sign that said you are the future—do you like what you see? ... the Lone Star flag hanging from the wall ... Mr. Collins droning on about conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit ... the video about temperature on a screen at the front of the room ... and district discus champ Tylynne Eaton's little shimmy to the video's music in his back-row seat—was being digitized by the robot's motherboard into hundreds of thousands of 1s and 0s and zipped as radio signals to an antenna at the end of the only hallway in Knox City High.

Converted to electrical pulses at that access point, the 1s and 0s were sent through copper wires to a telephone cooperative a half block away, then turned into laser beams that entered underground fiber-optic cables and darted beneath 85 miles of oil fields and ranchland to Wichita Falls. There they hopped a ride on cables and dashed across the continent to a server in Nashua, N.H.—home of VGo, the company that invented the robot—then reversed direction and raced 1,664 miles back to Knox City, an outpost in northern Texas 15 blocks long and 10 blocks wide that's populated by mebbe a thousand people, as the locals say, and mebbe not.

Transformed back into electrical signals in Knox City, that horde of 1s and 0s traveled about a mile north by copper wiring, where a thicket of mesquite gave way to a gray mailbox, a yard bumpy with brown weeds and bluebonnets and mounds of fire ants, a small red-brick house and 23 cows, two dozen calves, one bull, 52 hens, 10 roosters, 15 goats, five cats, one big shaggy herding dog named Jack and one small basset hound named Betsy, all milling on the homestead's 140-acre farm.

A branch of copper wiring surfaced here and fed those bytes through a wall of the red-brick house, where a modem turned them back into radio signals that leaped through the air to a laptop on a desk in the living room, which converted them into the images and sounds unfolding in that science classroom: Mr. Collins's drone, the flickering video and Tylynne Eaton's shimmy.

This—all of it—took three seconds.

"No dancing!" chirped the robot.

Tylynne smiled. He's been pals with Lyndon Baty, the boy operating the bot by remote control, since they were eight, long before Lyndon's body began rejecting its transplanted kidney at the end of eighth grade, long before his immune system disintegrated once more, long before he became the first kid in the U.S. to attend school via a robot last January and became the voice of yourrrrr Knox City Greyyyyyhounnnnnds! in March.

A girl in the back of class turned. "Shhhhh," she scolded the bot.

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