Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium has partnered with the WeGo Project to utilize a telepresence robot on private, guided tours throughout Mote Aquarium. The Double 3 robot is controllable by hospitalized children using a computer or iPad to drive the webcam allowing them the chance to see, hear, talk and move as if they are physically at the Aquarium.

The purpose of the program is to ease anxiety and isolation that comes along with pediatric inpatient hospitalizations. WeGo Program Manager, Natalie Marrero, suggested Mote as the next new location for the project. Originally from Florida, Natalie is excited to expand into her hometown and remembers the joy kids felt at Mote Aquarium from her childhood. According to WeGo Project’s founder Galen Shi, the project allows “patients an escape from their hospital beds to just be children again.”

WeGo primarily connects patients from local hospitals, but they said that physical distance isn’t a problem. That’s the whole point of the robot, “kids get to go somewhere they wouldn’t normally be able to go,” said Shi. Through the WeGo Project, Mote Aquarium will partner in the mission that pushes the limits of what a child with chronic illness can stereotypically do.

With the ability to drive the robot anywhere in the tour space, children often enjoy just being in control of a robot. “They aren’t the center of attention because they’re the sick kid,” said Shi. “They’re the center of attention because they’re a robot.” During the tour, participants will be able to explore exhibits with animals native to Florida and discover the impacts they have on our ecosystems. “Mote was really excited to be a part of this project,” said Mote’s Associate Vice President of Education Aly Busse, “we want to give all children the opportunity to explore marine environments and learn about the animals that inhabit them through safe and comfortable experiences.”

The first tours will occur in the winter, each participant will be accompanied by volunteer tour guides.