Lyndon Baty and the Robot That Saved Him

In tiny Knox City, a sick boy and his robot sidekick keep beating the odds.

While VGo was more affordable, it was also overly simple. Many of SKC's clients looking for similar technology wanted something with more features. So Cuella started calling clients, trying to see if anyone was interested in giving his bot a test run. The first "yes" he got was from Mike Campbell, a techie at the Wichita Falls Service Center, which handled email and networking for Knox City High School.

Then the weirdest thing happened: The day before the salesman arrived in Wichita Falls for the demo, the service center got a call from a woman who handles special education services for Knox City High. They had a freshman who was too sick to go to school, she said. They tried having him connect to the computers already in class but it wasn't enough. What he needed was a way to roam around the school so he could keep talking to students once the bell rang. Did Campbell have any ideas?

After giving the bot a test run with Cuella, Campbell knew he had a solution for Lyndon's problem.

Lyndon is back at Children's again. His robot will be back in school next fall.
Dylan Hollingsworth
Lyndon is back at Children's again. His robot will be back in school next fall.

Details

Email the author at luke.darby@dallasobserver.com.

"They called it a God thing," Campbell says. "They think it was just divine intervention that Victor showed up."

That winter, around Christmas, the Batys pulled into their backyard after driving around to see Christmas lights.

"Oh my God," Louis said. "The robot's here."

It was supposed to go to his office, but here it was at their house, the $6,000 UPS delivery sitting on the mercifully dry concrete. Worried that Chance would get to it and do Lord knows what, Louis didn't let anyone open the box. He trucked it to his office, to wait out the winter before being transported to the copy room. Then, on the day after winter break, out it rolled, into the hallway to find a crowd waiting for it. The kids gathered around, to welcome Lyndon back and to see the robot in action.

A boy named Austin was one of the first to approach.

"Lyndon," he said, hugging the little bot. "I've missed you so much!"


The first couple weeks were rough. On Lyndon's side the setup was straightforward enough: Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast — all the standard getting-ready-for-school stuff. Then open the laptop and log in to school. The interface is simple and keyboard-based, which is sort of a shame, because all it needs is a joystick or proper controller for the whole thing to feel like a video game.

But Lyndon never technically learned how to pilot the bot before the first day of school, so moving from Points A to B took some trial and error. He'd never even been inside the high school, so he was figuring out the controls as the same time he was figuring out the campus. "I ran into doors," he says. "Teachers. Bathrooms. Girls."

At school the bot's novelty wore off fast, but it was even more valuable than expected. Lyndon's wisecracking and attention-loving nature didn't just make it easier for people to interact with him; it's what's kept him engaged. When Mr. Moeller had to chew out two girls for picking on Lyndon via the robot — taping paper over the camera eye, picking it up from behind and turning it around with Lyndon unable to see the culprits — their response was: "We'd be picking on Lyndon the same if he was here."

"His personality helps out a lot," says Kent Deville, Lyndon's chemistry teacher. "A shier kid would have problems." Lyndon isn't afraid to call out when he needs help, and he uses the bot's tricks to his advantage. He can zoom in, take photos of the whiteboard and homework corrections and refer back to everything later. "It's like H.G. Wells," Mr. Deville says. Kelsey Vasquez, a classmate, says Lyndon is actually more outgoing as the robot. "He's shier in person," she says, at least until he's had time to relax. "I don't think I could be as happy as he is."

His health improving, Lyndon also found a way to indulge his fixation on sports. Doctors said he could make the open-air walk through the crowd and stands up to the announcer booth. He just couldn't spend eight hours a day in the petri dish that is a high school. So he started announcing at baseball games for the Knox City High School Greyhounds.

The voice that boomed out of the tiny body and those loudspeakers could draw out "Your Knox City Greyhounds" like an opera singer. Lyndon got to make as much noise as possible, and he decided on the career tracks that made sense for him: sportswriter or commentator. He branched out to football games, too, foghorning the "BU-ULL DO-OGS." But he likes baseball more because there's more dead time he gets to fill up. The sports-fanatic quasi-cyborg even got ESPN and Sports Illustrated's attention.

The biggest surprise came in February. Dallas's NBC 5 took him and his family to see the Mavericks, Lyndon's favorite team. Then Lyndon got to meet the entire team. It was all organized in part by then-Maverick Delonte West, who had heard about Lyndon and wanted to do something for him. Lyndon stayed at the stadium until 2 a.m. shooting hoops with West. He now has a pair of Dirk Nowitzki's shoes on display in his room, where jerseys and pennants hang from the walls and his bedding is Mavericks blue.

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11 comments
MisterMean
MisterMean

I seem to recall a similar concept in the Dallas Morning News comic page Baldo where one student (due to immunological illness) went to school via robot.

aparis1
aparis1

@MisterMean Yes, Baldo did do a number of comic strips featuring a Rayna the robot that looks strikingly like VGo :)

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

@MisterMean  That's odd.  I seem to recall a Bob Marley and the Wailers song all about "we gonna chase those crazy baldheads outta the town".  I always seemed to think that had something to do with the skinheads prevalent in Deep Ellum in the 1980s, and if I'm not wrong, nary a peep from the conservatrons at DMN.  The somewhat admirable individual (and Liberal) entrepreneurs, with some help from myself and my friends, are the ones responsible for getting the police involved in getting those early incarnations of the Tea Party out of one of the few organic and independently operated entertainment districts the city of Dallas ever had.  Crazy baldheads is exactly what I'd call those misbegotten extremists, and many Dallas cops would agree with us.  I have a bunch of stories to tell about being blond and blue-eyed and getting the Nazi salute from those idiot-heads. 

Baldo?  Right about robotic.  Mechanized.  Wehrmacht. The notion that Nazis were Liberals is simply another "fictional reality" from the mind of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the woman who wore black leather jackets but never went to South Central Los Angeles with it. 

MisterMean
MisterMean

@gordonhilgers Let me see if I can reiterate (re state) my original comment:

1) the article talks about the use of robotics (a robot) for Lyndon Baty to be able to attend his school.   Also about the history of why he can not attend school in person due to his health.

2) I mentioned the comic pages in the Dallas Morning News-they appear in the Arts & Life section.   There are 2 and 1/2 pages.   B.C., Blondie, Crankshaft, Curtis, Dilbert etc.  They appear every day.

3) on the 1/2 page of comics is a comic written by Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos.   The main character is a teenage male named Baldo.  He lives with his father, his Tia (aunt) and his little sister.   The NAME OF THE STRIP IS BALDO!   Baldo is Hispanic.  He has a friend who he hangs out with who, a few weeks ago, dated a girl who, much like Lyndon Baty, could not attend school due to health reasons.  She too was able to attend school by a robot.  There were several days worth of comic strips dealing with how the young lady and Baldo's friend "dated".  

4)  In my comment it was my intention to draw the parallels between this comic strip and real life of Lyndon Baty.

It must have gone over your head.  I do not know where you came up with your response.  It is really off the wall!

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers like.author.displayName 1 Like

First the Star Trek communicators.  Now the robots.  And they said us hippies were "just kiddin'".  Apparently, dreams can come true for some people, and my empathy and hope goes out to Lyndon.  As a survivor of a life-threatening illness, I know how it feels to stare death in the face.  Nobody to blame, really, but perhaps Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  But I'm not fighting them.  No way in hell.  I do blame the Soviets.  Lyndon's a good name for a Texan.  Big shoes to fill. 

Good luck, Lyndon.  You have a good day. 

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers like.author.displayName 1 Like

Of course, we could mention li'l Ricky Perry's big giveaway to his buddy, Harold Simmons, who wants to put a nuclear waste dump in West Texas.  The whole state of Nevada turns-out to stop the Nukie-poo-poo, but li'l Ricky never gave a crap about U-238, because, after all, when we protested with CPLF in 1980, we were all Commies. 

Li'l Ricky:  Sit on that and rotate. 

dfwenigma
dfwenigma

I see huge application to all sorts of things for this robot. I hope they're collecting data from it that they can use to improve the robots and make them even more anthromorphic. The robots need to be able to go where kids would go in a natural way. It's nice to know my iRobot has a cousin and that it had the same parents as this robot. We'll look back on this as the beginning of something great.

wilme2
wilme2

Good story.  Forwarding via e-mail and posting it to Facebook...

jwmplano
jwmplano

Great writing and very inspiring especially when most of what you see in the media are the examples of bad behavior and people's inhumanity. What an attitude Lyndon has. Now if he could only bottle it, many of us could use some now and then.

Robby746
Robby746

Need more stories of this sort.  Very good.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan like.author.displayName 1 Like

This was really, really good. Nice work, Luke. 

 
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