Going digital to help patients and families interact in a more personal way

A new robot at the Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton is demonstrating the powerful effect that digital connections can have on humans’ lives. On loan from Cybera, Alberta’s not-for-profit technology accelerator, the robot has allowed staff, families and patients to interact with colleagues and friends in a more personal way.

The robot operates like a videoconference tool with wheels. The maneuverable device can be driven by the person dialing in, allowing them to look and move around on the robot as though they were actually in the building. It gives a physical presence to those who are not able to be there in person.

Since moving to the Ronald McDonald House in March 2016, the Double Robotics device has become a valued tool for young patients at the nearby hospital to interact with friends in the House, and to pick out a toy from the “Magic Room”. This room contains hundreds of donated toys, from which young patients (or their families) are invited to choose on special occasions. If the patient is too ill to physically go to the Ronald McDonald House, the robot still gives them the opportunity to go into the room and choose their own toy.

Last week, Cybera staff participated in a “virtual kindness patrol”, which saw five children in the nearby hospital choose toys from the Magic Room for themselves and for their friends, which were delivered to them later in the day.

“Technology and innovation allows our families to access opportunities and experiences they would never have had before,” says Martin Dugas, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta. “We are able to change the trajectory of a family’s day by inviting them in to the Magic Room to experience some fun and joy.”

The robot has also become a useful tool for staff to use to interact with other Ronald McDonald House Charities across the continent.

“It is amazing to see the happiness of children or adults who are able to visit with family or friends who are far away, or be able to move about in one building when they are physically restricted to another,” says Barb Carra, Vice President of Policy and Strategic Initiatives at Cybera. “This just shows the importance of digital connections! From Cybera’s perspective, it validates the work we are doing to improve network connections and access to computing resources in Alberta.”

This represents just one of the technologies being trialled and used by the Ronald McDonald House to improve the well-being of those staying there. The facility also includes a 3D printer, in which children’s photos are turned into action figures. And the House features a digital wall that displays a living world populated by individual avatars of current and past visitors.

To find out more about the initiatives being run at the Ronald McDonald House, or how to donate, visit: https://rmhcna.org.

About Cybera

Cybera is a not-for-profit technology-neutral organization responsible for driving Alberta’s economic growth through the use of digital technology. Its core role is to oversee the development and operations of Alberta’s cyberinfrastructure — the advanced system of networks and computers that keeps government, educational institutions, not-for-profits, business incubators and entrepreneurs at the forefront of technological change.

About Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta

All Ronald McDonald Houses are independently owned and operated non-profit organizations. Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta is the only facility in Edmonton and the surrounding area that provides temporary and affordable accommodation for families whose children are being treated in one of Edmonton’s medical facilities.