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Sonic and Marvin, a robotic duo, are helping patients stay connected at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital

A pair of new robots, affectionately named Sonic and Marvin, are helping kids at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital stay connected with loved ones during the pandemic. 
  • June 21, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

You’ve probably heard of R2-D2, Wall-E, or Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero 6. They’re all lovable robots driven to care for their human companions.

Now, meet Sonic and Marvin: Two new robots at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital that are changing the way our patients connect with their friends and family inside and outside the hospital walls, and members of their hospital care team.

COVID-19 visitor restrictions – though necessary to protect our sickest patients – can make a long hospital stay feel isolating for children and family members. As the pandemic surged last year, our children’s hospital staff began searching for innovative ways to keep young patients connected while supporting their emotional and physical health.

One solution? Sonic and Marvin, roving robots equipped with iPad screens and operated via remote control. Children can use the iPads to conduct video calls with friends and loved ones who are unable to visit. But patients can also control the mobile devices from their rooms, allowing them to freely roam the hallways without leaving the comfort of their beds and offering them a more interactive way to communicate rather than just calling on a phone or a computer.

Sonic and Marvin can also serve as a source of comfort, reminding kids they are not alone with their friends and family just a call away.

“The hospital can be an isolating place for many patients and families, especially with enhanced restrictions due to the pandemic,” said Certified Child Life Specialist and Program Coordinator Ashley Wunderlich. “These robots allow patients to experience the hospital in a way that promotes socialization with others.”

To encourage patients to use the robots, Wunderlich and other Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio staff have organized games, like a scavenger hunt, where patients pilot the robots through the hospital to find items. Patients have even used the robots to walk Rocket, our full-time hospital facility dog. Hospital staff also plan to deploy Sonic and Marvin during celebrity visits and other events so that patients who cannot leave their rooms can still get involved.

Even after the COVID-19 restrictions are eventually lifted, Sonic and Marvin won’t be far away. From their home in the Zucker Family Suite, they’ll still be able to comfort kids who can’t leave their rooms by keeping them connected to the hospital community and their loved ones.

Sonic and Marvin were made possible by generous philanthropic support from Justin Hall, Jeff Manderfeld, Andy McPherson, Justin Humphrey, and Fritz Waldvogel.