Continuing the coverage and promotion of the pioneering technology introduced by No Isolation with the AV1 Robot, The Chartwell Cancer Trust recently held an Awareness and Demonstration Evening at the Oakley House Banqueting Suite, Bromley Common. Report by Barbara Field-Holmes.

With an estimated 72,000 children and young people in the UK currently battling long-term illness, inevitable absences from school can be as devastating as the illness itself. When that long-term illness is due to cancer, which is estimated at around 35,000, the devastation can be even more isolating; treatment can leave patients with severely compromised immune systems and highly susceptible to infection.

When The Chartwell Cancer Trust first learnt about the inspirational technology that can restore learning and laughter into the lives of oncology children, they were very excited and keen to get involved. The technology that is getting everyone so excited is the AV1 Robot, developed by Norwegian company No Isolation. We have already featured this pioneering technology in FUNdraising Magazine in issues 27 and 28, where we reported on some details about the robot. However, reading about this wonderful piece of technology is not quite the same as seeing it ‘in the flesh’, and seeing it in action. Therefore, in line with The CCT’s mission to bring ‘transformative technology to as many of our young oncology patients as we can, restoring learning and laughter into the lives of seriously ill children’, it was decided that to dramatically increase awareness they needed to demonstrate the robot in action.

On the 15th May, Trustee Michael Douglas, along with Group Trustees and staff members of The CCT, hosted an ‘Awareness and Demonstration Evening’ at Oakley House, Bromley, in collaboration with manufacturers No Isolation. The new Mayor of Bromley, Nicholas Bennett (previously Councillor of West Wickham ward) attended the event with his wife, Ruth, along with Councillor Kim Botting (Orpington ward).

Michael Douglas opened the evening by welcoming guests and giving a brief outline of the work of The CCT and some of the many fundraising projects that it has undertaken since it was founded in 2005, particularly those involving children. For example, he told how local mum, Melody Berthoud whose son Andrew ‘beat leukaemia’, approached The CCT to ask for help with getting a discount with the Churchill Theatre to take a group of children undergoing cancer treatment to a show. That led to the Churchill Theatre choosing to support the Charity on an ongoing basis. Another example was raising funds to provide a kitchen for parents and their children undergoing treatment in the Tiger Ward, the children’s oncology ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich where children in Hayes and Bromley go for cancer treatment: Before this, they had nowhere to make a hot drink or prepare food.

Other support included a magic floor for the children provided by the West Kent Freemasons, and the funding of new beds and monitoring equipment in the oncology ward.

Michael spoke passionately and said: “The worst thing about having a child with cancer is the way it smashes up your life. Bit by bit the family is drained of their money, as one or both parents has to take time away from work, so another thing we do is help them to pay their bills during this challenging time.

“The next thing is the feeling of isolation caused by not mixing with other children, so we set up groups for the children to meet, once a month to enjoy themselves in a safe environment and to help them feel ‘normal’ for a while,” he added.

“As we are becoming more well known, we are being approached by more people and hospitals that need support. We have recently taken on a project with Croydon University Hospital to raise £750,000 for the refurbishment of the new Children’s Oncology Department within the new Integrated Paediatric Unit at CUH. Last year we presented them with a cheque for £100,000, and continue with our fundraising efforts.”

 

INTRODUCING THE AV1 ROBOT

One of the worst things that usually happens to children undergoing cancer treatment is that they lose touch with friends and miss out on education. The CCT were so impressed when they first saw the AV1 Robot that they ordered six, followed by six more.

Michael then introduced Harriet Gridley and George Howe from No Isolation, who came to help demonstrate the AV1 Robot and talk a little about the thinking behind its development. Harriet began by saying: “It is an honour to know The Chartwell Cancer Trust and to be here and have the opportunity to demonstrate our magical tool that is transforming the lives of children. Our mission is to reduce loneliness through warm technology.”

Harriet gave examples of children who had suffered social isolation and loneliness due to illness and being unable to attend school and meet with friends. “You have hospital schools and travelling teachers, but there is nothing like having a relationship with your friends and teachers in the classroom,” said Harriet. “Children also worry about going back to school after having a long absence. We noticed there is a need for that communication, through a friendly interface like a robot.”

Through a video, Harriet introduced the audience to Karen Dolva, CEO and founder of No Isolation. Karen explained: “Not only is loneliness uncomfortable, but it can have major consequences on our overall health and life outcomes. It is proven to lead to low self-esteem, reduced confidence, and fear of returning to school. It is even argued that loneliness can make our immune system weaker and cancer more deadly.

“The concept of AV1 was developed after months of consulting teachers, parents, children and doctors,” continued Karen. “We learnt that the child needed to be physically represented in the classroom, and that the tool needed to be simple, in order to be a seamless part of the school day. What started in the hearts of my co-founders and I, three young Norwegian entrepreneurs, gradually took the form of the avatar AV1, who is the eyes, ears and voice of a child who cannot be physically present at school.

“Three years from its inception, we are so thankful to all those who have championed its use and helped us fine-tune AV1 to what it is today.”

George from No Isolation then spoke. He explained how the UK government’s loneliness strategy and the Department for Education has invested over half a million pounds of its Alternative Provision Innovation Fund in AV1. It has enabled a young Everton fan to fulfill his dream to be a football mascot, allowed a young girl to meet the Dalai Lama and, even more importantly, it has helped 900 children across Europe take part in everyday realities, such as socialising with friends in the school lunch hall.

The DfE funding will mean 90 AV1s are being deployed across the UK for a 2-year project, independently reviewed by Ecorys. A year into the project the data is showing that the AV1s are helping children to access mainstream education whilst unwell, to remain connected to their home school and friends and feel less isolated.

Before Harriet, George and Michelle Simpson from The CCT demonstrated three AV1 Robots to small groups at a time, Mayor Nicholas Bennett addressed the audience. He said: “I can see this technology has far reaching potential in combatting loneliness.” He also thanked Michael for the work that The CCT is doing to raise awareness and find sponsors to buy more of the robots.

 

HOW IT WORKS

During the demonstrations guests were able to learn how the robot works. The robot sits in the child’s place in school, or the lunchroom or playground, where he/she can interact with teachers and friends. The child uses a tablet or smart phone that has the AV1 app installed. Through the app the user can connect to their AV1 Robot, which is at the school, whilst they remain remotely in bed with their tablet or smart phone. They can hear through the AV1’s microphone, see through the AV1’s camera, and speak through the AV1’s loudspeaker. They can also control the robot’s movements by swiping on the screen. In addition, there are four sound levels; mute, whisper, normal, loud (for outdoors or assembly).

Other clever features include the light at the top of the robot’s head that starts to blink if the child raises their hand for attention. The robot’s eyes can also be controlled to indicate the child’s mood – neutral, happy, confused or sad. And there is also an AV1 Assistant app for teachers, IT staff and others who administer one or several AV1 robots. Through the Assistant app, they can easily check the robot’s battery status, manage WiFi networks, troubleshoot, look up resources, and chat with customer support. The app is downloaded from the App Store and Google Play Store.

 

PRIVACY AND SAFEGUARDING

Most importantly, everyone was reassured about the privacy and safeguarding aspect of using the robot. “No Isolation acknowledges that privacy, both for the teacher and the students, is incredibly important,” said George. “AV1 is an innovative product and as such the idea of bringing a device with a camera into the classroom can seem daunting. That is why we have designed the device with privacy and safeguarding at the front of our mind throughout, and built multiple layers of security.”

The AV1 cannot record, it only transmits a live stream from the avatar to the AV1 users’ tablet. No data is recorded, and the live stream is end-to-end encrypted, meaning it is impossible for any external party, including No Isolation, to access the stream.

Screenshots are also forbidden. In fact, if someone tried to screenshot or record, depending on the device type, the stream will automatically terminate or No Isolation will receive a notification, and reserve the right to deactivate the AV1.

The AV1 is also clearly visible when active as its head will lift and the eyes will light up. However, whilst the robot becomes the sick child’s eyes and ears, and the child can see what the AV1 sees, the class cannot see the child. AV1 is a one-user device so only one AV1 user will be able to connect to a single AV1. Their app is accessible via a secret 4-digit pin code and only one AV1 user can use the app.

The AV1 is GDPR compliant as No Isolation do not need, or ask for, any personal data about the AV1 user. The company only stores customer data such as name and contact information of school or local authority in order to process an order or payment.