Here Karen Dolva, CEO and Co-Founder of No Isolation, explains how children in hospital or who are housebound can stay connected to school life…
Being housebound for any length of time can be difficult - it can make you feel lonely, left out and disconnected. While for many of us being housebound is only temporary, for those suffering from long-term illness, remaining at home can be a reality stretching weeks, months and even years. For children and young adults this can be especially difficult, as the forced separation means that they miss out on things such as forming new friendships, maintaining existing ones and even end up losing access to things that should be available to everyone, such as an education. Fortunately, companies like ours can provide a solution in the form of warm technology, making the difficult period easier and providing an increased sense of independence to those who may be forced to stay at home for long periods of time.
The concept of warm technology is relatively new - it is a term that is used to describe technology that is created with the sole purpose of solving a problem that affects society. In our case, the societal problem we want to solve is loneliness. According to our research, vulnerable groups, such as children and young adults with long-term illnesses, or the elderly, are prone to experiencing and suffering from, involuntary isolation. Our first product, the telepresence robot AV1, was created with the sole purpose of reducing the feelings of loneliness experienced by children and young adults, while also enabling them to ‘attend’ school. We’ve learnt many things in the process of developing the AV1, but also since launch. For example, in the creation process, we found that it was important for the children using the robot to not be seen by their peers, especially if they were poorly or in a hospital environment. For that reason, we designed AV1 to enable the child to show emotion without needing to be seen - using the AV1 app they can choose to express happiness, confusion and sadness via AV1’s eyes. Children can also signal that they would like to ask a question, or indicate whether they want to actively participate in a class or conversation or not, through the lights on the top of AV1’s head.
Since launch, we also learnt that not only can the AV1 help a child receive a full education, but it has also proven itself to be a powerful social tool, providing children with a greater feeling of independence. For example, through the AV1, the user is able to attend a wider variety of events, ranging from simple trips to the shop, through to attending sleepovers and concerts. When someone is housebound, these virtual excursions can be a welcome relief from the four walls that they are surrounded with. Because the AV1 is easy to carry and doesn’t require the user to leave the house or the hospital themselves, it allows them to attend, and participate in, events that they might be too weak to go to otherwise. The AV1 allows them to maintain vital relationships by letting the user be wherever their friends are, actively participating in discussions and experiences. Because the robot mimics human movement, such as turning the head, or reducing the voice to a whisper, it is also much easier for the friends to imagine it as the real person, actively involving them in whatever activity they are currently undertaking.
From our extensive research, working with families and children who experience long-term illness, we know how important these glimpses of normalcy are. Illnesses are challenging, demanding and isolating, and if we can remove some of the strain caused by them, we know we are on the right track.
See the website for more information on No Isolation.