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Story Idea: RoboTeen

The Pecman

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I just saw a Verizon telephone/internet commercial tonight that really struck me: they show a montage of all the ways their technology has had an impact on daily life, and they show a motorized platform with a monitor in it that rolls up to a school desk. The monitor lights up, and we see the face of a (presumably very ill) boy in a hospital bed, participating in class. The teacher asks a question, a handful of kids raise their hands with the answer, and she points to the boy on the monitor screen, who also has his hand raised. We hear his voice as he responds through a speaker in the robotic platform, presumably via a live WiFi connection on the web.

This really struck me. I thought: what if he were a teenager? What if somebody sat near the robot in a class, got a glimpse of the sick kid on the monitor, and fell in love at first sight? How would you even start a friendship on this basis? What if the kid was dying? What if the illness was only temporary? What if he couldn't have any visitors at the hospital?

I could see some very interesting potential for this idea, especially if the two lead characters actually had a future together: that the ill kid wasn't necessarily dying, or at least could be cured. Food for thought, anyway. [i'd attach the commercial if I could find it, but haven't found it yet.]

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I saw that commercial today. The kid didn't look sick to me, and didn't look like he was in the hospital, but I don't pay much attention to commercials and so might have missed the finer points.

I'd say you have a great story idea there that you could develop. After you finish the other two that seem to have been on hiatus forever, of course!

Bad Cole, bad Cole, bad Cole.


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There is almost scope for a "Halloween/Christmas" type competition (don't look to me I have enough problems already, sigh)...

What if... It's an Australian Outback classroom of the air type situation and two of the kids fall in love but are a 1000k apart with no email/messenger privacy... how do they even get that across to each other with the class looking on?

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I like Jeff's idea of the Aussie Outback and the extreme distance, but I would add one other dimension: What if the robot understood the developing relationship? Of course that would be a case of a machine built from spare parts (an old plot line) from some military hardware that develops it's own artificial intelligence. A gay friendly robot? Hell, we can use all the help we can get! Go for it Pecman.

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I think you need to get to work, Pecman! Its been awhile and I think this is a great and original story idea. It's got lots of potential!

Doh, not for me! Cole is right: I've been stalled out on two other novels for many months, and the last thing I need is a new one! I'm merely offering an idea to the members-at-large here on the forum.

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I saw the exact commercial just a couple of days ago too. Even more interesting was the conversation I had with the young teen who happened to be watching the TV at the same time.

His first reaction was, "Wow, that'd be awesome. I wouldn't have to get up and walk through the snow to school in the morning."

I asked him if he wouldn't miss spending time with everybody at school.

He responded that he wouldn't, because he'd just talk to them through the robot thing.

I asked him if he thought it would be the same.

He seemed to think about this for a few seconds, then shrugged, and finally admitted, "Maybe not."

That was the end of it, but I think I got him thinking a bit about the importance of face to face interaction, despite all our electronics. Especially with that age group.

And I agree. This is absolutely great fodder for a story. I too am stalled on a couple of stories for a while, but I may fool around a bit with this premise.

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But how would you handle the obligatory PE shower/lockerroom scenes???

Didn't they tell you... The school has record-only closed circuit TV after a problem with bullying. The virtual student system is able to roam the permitted cameras to find friends and call them on the nearest machine... our hero is a geek who manages to break into the sealed locker-room camera. He cant communicate but becomes mightily frustrated by his inability to join in.

Or something like that

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I saw the exact commercial just a couple of days ago too. Even more interesting was the conversation I had with the young teen who happened to be watching the TV at the same time. His first reaction was, "Wow, that'd be awesome. I wouldn't have to get up and walk through the snow to school in the morning."

And if anybody bullied you, you could just electrocute them with your electronic hands or something. (I'm reminded of the robot from Lost in Space.)


It'd take some work to work around the usual "fish out of water" cliches, but I think it could make a good story. The key issue to me would be how serious the kid's illness would be -- is he dying, is he recovering, is he infectiuous? -- and how he'd have any kind of a real relationship with anybody. And it might come off too gimmicky in the end. Just a thought.

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Ah, just found the commercial! Verizon "Powerful Answers":


After seeing it, I'm more convinced that ever that there's a good story to be made with this as the core idea. The segment where the robot is rolling down the school hallway begins about :55 seconds into the spot (this is the long version). You only get a glimpse of the kid, but just the thought of a teenager who had to attend school by proxy really got my attention. I would up the age of the boy in the commercial to something more realistic, like 15 or 16, but I think the story idea has merit. The way I would take it, though, would probably not have a happy ending.

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I think it could work as a short story. I don't see it as a happy ending either, but not a whole box of tissues needed either. Basically pathos although few stories or films implement the meaning I ascribe. In the film world, Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid" is close although he was hamstrung by the audience expectation and the times it was made in. In the story world, most seem to overplay the sad bits, but it's a delicate balance getting it right.

I can see some scenes already, but I'll not say how I'd end it for two reasons, one it would need some thought to hit the right note and two, I'm not giving away my thought process as I could see the idea becoming a competition.

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I'd be looking at an exploration of how the electronic image fails the human need for physical interaction.

The interest is in the details of why the student is communicating via the electronic images.

Is the student prone to outside everyday infections, threatening his very existence?

What happens when the school's equipment breaks down and another student decides to "visit" the sick boy, only to find that all he can do is to talk to him through a plastic barrier?

Can the separation by electronics, and plastic walls be made a metaphor for the barriers that separate us all from each other, only to be overcome by the expression of love that we feel for one another?

How that love is expressed becomes the pivotal point in my vision of the story. Do the barriers become ignored at the peril for both boys, or do they just learn about the barriers, the walls we construct around ourselves until a cure is found or the disease takes its course? Either way the final scene leaves us with the possibility of reaching an understanding of the human condition which no machine is ever likely to challenge, no matter how clever we are in creating an artificial extension of our evolving intelligence. All we can do is break down the barriers inhibiting us being able to love each other.

And no I don't have time to work on the story. I have too many unfinished stories to work on once I achieve some degree of financial stability in which I will not be as threatened as I have been for three years (of hell). Hopefully, that will be in a couple of months and I will be able to complete my 'dream-time' fantasy in the Australian Outback.

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  • 2 weeks later...

And I just saw a :30 second version of the same commercial which has a little more content on the kid. I again wonder what kind of life a teenager with this condition would have, day to day. I'm telling you, there's a story idea here.


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  • 3 weeks later...

In real life it seems this robot idea is catching on:


The most interesting information conveyed by the article is that the robot does not disrupt the class and the kids respond to it as if the device is Devon. This is a beautiful response of technology to the medical needs of the human race.

Okay, as for my thoughts on writing a story about this...I am swamped with other things at the moment.

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