Meet the robot helping sick children in Northamptonshire be 'at school'

A small, white robot is helping sick children in Northamptonshire be in lessons at school and take part in social events.

AV1 is a 'telepresence solution' that helps children with medical needs to be in the classroom when they are off school by watching and listening to an iPad app.

AV1, the telepresence robot which helps sick children be in school

AV1, the telepresence robot which helps sick children be in school

They can talk through a speaker and change the robot's expression to mimic their mood - happy, sad, confused and laughter - while lights on top can signal to ask a question or notify the teacher that the child is too tired to contribute.

The head can also move with swipes on the screen, and is very portable with some going on school trips to the zoo and taking part in group work.

Cath Kitchen, who was showcasing the technology at a conference at the University of Northampton yesterday (Friday, June 14), said AV1 can make all the difference to a poorly child.

"It means that the child who is away from school for a long time remains connected to their school, a sense of belonging still with their friends, so when they're better, it's much easier for them to go back to school," she said.

The Merged Futures gets started at the University of Northampton

The Merged Futures gets started at the University of Northampton

"And the children who are in and out because of complex conditions, it means they don't miss as much schooling as they would do."

The scheme is funded by the Department for Education and has been running for nine months, with ten robots in Northamptonshire at the moment, built by Norwegian start-up No Isolation.

Ms Kitchen said some poorly children have been able to take their GCSEs thanks to AV1 while others have been able to get a sense of what it is like to be 'normal' for a few hours by taking part in lessons.

"There's a few barriers and it's not the be-all and end-all, nor are we saying it replaces human beings, but what it does is for some children getting ready to go to school takes a lot of energy so you can get more hours of education," she said.

"But for us, the key thing is that social and emotional inclusion and feeling of belonging to your own school and remaining connected and being with your mates."

AV1 was being shown off at a conference by Digital Northampton, a collaboration between the university, Northamptonshire County Council and tech companies in the area to promote digital innovation.

Numerous exhibitors and speakers from a range of technological companies were involved with around 300 visitors.

Project manager Richard Beards said they found that many digital firms were not aware of others in the area or too protective to work collaboratively, so they hoped the event would help them to realise their potential and give them more publicity.

"Hopefully today is the launch to show people what is on our doorstep in Northampton so we can try and get a central, creative, digital hub that, a bit like motorsport, we can promote it and shout about what we've got and get some more investment," he said on Friday.