How a telepresence robot made a young soccer enthusiast’s dreams come true

Volkswagen teams up with OhmniLabs on custom telepresence robot, CHAMP, to provide matchday access for young soccer fans.

Like a lot of 10-year-old soccer fans, Luna Perrone of Palm Beach, Florida, has a few favorite stars – like Alex Morgan, the U.S. Women’s National Team forward and Volkswagen Ambassador. Unlike most other young supporters, however, Perrone has some high hurdles to clear in order to see Alex in person at a match, let alone have the opportunity to meet her. The biggest hurdle – Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that requires intense treatments close to her home.

Or that was the case until CHAMP, a telepresence robot developed by Volkswagen in collaboration with OhmniLabs, a Silicon Valley-based robotics company, came onto the field. CHAMP allows young soccer fans who are unable to attend matches in person the ability to interact with players, participate in activities on the field and enjoy the gameday experience.

Luna Perrone in the stadium tunnel before the match.

During a soccer game, Perrone suffered a tough tackle which left her with hip pain. Originally diagnosed as a fracture, the pain continued to get worse, and she was eventually diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, on her 10th birthday. Scans revealed that an inoperable tumor was wrapped around her hip. Since her diagnosis, Perrone has focused on keeping a positive attitude and continuing her love for the sport of soccer. Despite her cancer, she practices juggling the soccer ball to keep up her physical fitness, so when she is healthy, she’ll be at her best on the field.

While at the hospital receiving treatments this past April, Perrone received a personal invitation from Alex Morgan through CHAMP to become the first virtual player honoree. As a massive Women’s National Team fan, the news was a dream come true. On July 1st, Perrone was virtually transported into the center of matchday action.

CHAMP was positioned pitch-side beside the team benches, allowing Perrone to watch the U.S. and Mexico warm up for the match. Through CHAMP, Perrone was able to meet and connect with players on the U.S. Women’s Team, speak directly with several players, including Morgan, participate in various activities like watching warm-ups from the 50-yard line, meeting USNWT General Manager, Kate Markgraf, and being the last person in the tunnel with the team to cheer them on as they took the field.

“I had so much fun seeing all of the Women’s National Team players, especially before they went overseas,” said Perrone. “It was fun being in the tunnel and cheering them on right before they took the field.”

CHAMP is engineered to mimic the appearance of a physical player honoree, using a “head” screen that projects the user’s face and a 3D-printed body on wheels that takes design cues from the Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV, so users can take the life-like robot on a variety of surfaces—from the concrete of the stadium locker room to the turf on the field. The video feed is then transmitted back to the user’s device so they can see and hear everything that is happening at the stadium.

“What an incredible day for Luna,” said Luna’s mother, Hailey Perrone. “She said to me after the experience, ‘Mom, my face hurts so much from smiling!’ Luna has been through so much since her diagnosis and being part of this program has been a bright spot for the entire family.”

Megan Rapinoe, a Volkswagen Ambassador and member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, greeting Luna.

Following its on-field debut with Perrone, CHAMP helped another young soccer fan engage with the game.

Chisi Obasi, an 8-year-old from Gerdena, California was connected with the virtual honoree program through a non-profit organization that serves children impacted by chronic illnesses such as cancer, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses.

Chisi Obasi, 8, a virtual player honoree who utilized CHAMP on July 5.

For as long as Obasi can remember, it’s been her dream to meet Megan Rapinoe. With CHAMP’s assistance, she and Rapinoe met for the first time on July 5th at the USWNT match vs Mexico in Hartford, CT. CHAMP then rolled out onto the field alongside the starting line-up for the playing of the National Anthem.

“It was so awesome seeing the whole team and some of my favorite players,” said Obasi. “I will never forget this day!”

CHAMP will attend future Women’s and Men’s National Team matches providing children the opportunity to be a virtual player honoree throughout 2021 and beyond. To learn more, visit ussoccer.com/vwchamp.