VGo is a 4G LTE-enabled mobile robot that is creating a whole new experience for visitors to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

VGo is a 4G LTE-enabled mobile robot that is creating a whole new experience for visitors to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

4G LTE-enabled teleconferencing robot VGo redefines a trip to the zoo.

A guest story provided by Margie Marks, Curator of Conservation Education at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

In early September 2012, a robot straight out of the Star Wars era arrived at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium with the goal of expanding and enhancing learning opportunities.  Named VGo, our new resident is a mobile video and audio-enabled communication system, generously donated by the Verizon Foundation.

A collaboration between New Hampshire-based VGo Communications and Verizon, VGo is a 4G LTE-enabled robot that can be remotely controlled and is capable of cost-effectively connecting parties across town or across the globe.

After several weeks of training, the Zoo staff quickly learned to navigate VGo through the maze of desks and staff in the administration building and everyone was ready for the first trial run. Outfitted with a new, shiny giraffe-patterned coat complete with Zoo and Verizon Foundation logos, VGo was ready too.

A New Kind of Field Trip

Every year more than 300,000 people participate in Zoo education and outreach programs, often travelling long distances to do so.  Student field trips to the zoo allow for an experience not possible in the classroom…until now.

But VGo is redefining the concept of ‘classroom’.  With the ability to broadcast remotely anywhere in the United States, more time can be spent on learning, less on traveling.  VGo not only saves time and money, but also supports the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s conservation message by reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with less travel.  In addition, teachers are able to expand lessons by focusing on larger animals that would not normally be part of the education curriculum, but can be studied in live time using VGo.

VGo and the Sea Turtles

One of the Zoo’s programs that is benefiting tremendously from VGo is the popular Sea Turtle Second Chance program. To participate, students had to make a trip to the Zoo to meet the sea turtles and speak with the aquarists.  Now VGo takes students on a live, behind-the-scenes tour.  An aquarist talks about the turtles and shows a sea turtle to the students through VGo to illustrate the lesson.  This live interaction allows students to absorb more information than they would without the up-close look and brings this experience to them in the comfort of their own classroom.

VGo Provides a Unique Experience for All

So far, the response from students and Zoo visitors has been overwhelmingly positive. KidScience students (a year-long program for students ages 11 to 14) received hands-on experience navigating VGo through the public areas of the PPG Aquarium.  Students were fascinated by the robot’s abilities and asked questions about sensors, connectivity, maximum speed, and software. 

The staff of the PPG Aquarium is also working with VGo.  Aquarists are able to conduct meet-the-keeper sessions from behind-the-scenes, surprising visitors with the opportunity of a behind-the-scenes look and a live question and answer session.

Technology Enables Learning

The use of technology in opening up opportunities to engage, to learn and experience is the real story here.  Thanks to the Verizon Foundation, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is looking forward to making VGo a permanent fixture in our conservation education programs, enhancing and creating even more wonderful Zoo experiences.

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