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WorkinCT: Getting a virtual look at Connecticut through the eyes of a robot

WEST HARTFORD -- It’s a sight that turned heads in West Hartford Center: A man and his robot were seen rolling down the sidewalks and passing the businesses along Farmington Avenue.

“Yeah when I saw a robot rolling down the street I had no idea what was going on,” said Sean Brennan, who rushed out of Milkcraft in West Hartford.

“Right now he’s virtually living here,” he said.

Or at least, he’s getting a really cool virtual tour. The idea came to John Vasellina after he set up West Hartford Coworking on Farmington Avenue. He originally got the robot to keep him updated with what was going on in the coworking space, and the idea evolved from there.

“Most of our members are people who moved here from other places, usually because their spouse got a job from one of our employers and they kept their job and worked remotely. So I started giving tours of our space to people who were out-of-state, and then when I looked the number of people who were leaving Connecticut, and how happy I’ve been since I moved here to West Hartford, I thought we could use this technology to raise awareness about the nice quality of life we have,” said Vasellina.

That’s what he’s doing. He took Sudeep Patra from San Jose, California on a scenic stroll through West Hartford Center.

Patra says this tour goes beyond what he could see on the Internet. It gives him a feel for West Hartford when he can see the people passing by and even interact with them.

“It doesn’t only give you where you will be moving, it also gives you kind of understanding of the place and what’s around you,” said Patra.

For many people with families knowing that the community has good schools, nice neighborhoods and a bustling downtown is a way to entice them to move here.

“It gives people a sense of what makes West Hartford so popular to begin with, which is the walkable downtown, which is very, very rare in this area. You have a lot of people here from Boston. You have a lot of people here from New York, transplants from another city, and West Hartford Center kind of replicates that for them,” said Scott Kluger, who owns Hartford Baking Company.

John Vasellina hopes that others will see what he’s doing with his robot and will embrace it and maybe get a robot of their own to showcase what Connecticut has to offer.

“The technology has a lot of uses, so not only could we show people who are out-of-state what we have to offer from our parks, our towns, and our town centers, we could also help them figure out at least a short list of where they want to live and what they can afford,” he said.