Technology to help fight off loneliness

Companies such as Oslo-based start-up No Isolation are leading the fight in using technology to help find a solution for lonely groups of people within society. Their first product, a telepresence robot named AV1, has been designed to help a vulnerable section of society that sometimes is overlooked in the media. Children who suffer from long-term illness and cannot connect with their friends and school-mates, often suffer from depression as a result of their isolation. With doctors’ appointments and treatments sometimes taking over the lives of these children, it can be a relief to chat to their friends and learn alongside them at school using simple technology.

To help encourage the ongoing education and social learning of these children, No Isolation’s AV1 has been designed alongside teachers and scientists at the University of Oslo, and with the help of Anne Fi Troye – a mother who lost her teenage daughter to cancer in 2005. These parties all worked together with No Isolation to create a revolutionary product to overcome a level of solitude that Anne Fi describes as “much worse than the diagnosis, the pain, and the treatment.”

Making use of a microphone, loudspeaker, one-way camera, and two motors, AV1 allows students who may be at home or in hospital be ‘in’ the classroom along with their friends. This small and lightweight technology securely live-streams what it is seeing and hearing to an iPad held by the child. The user can then speak through their AV1 and control it by nodding and rotating the robot.

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If there is one thing that this design team have succeeded in doing, it is remembering the needs of the child. AV1’s camera is one way, meaning that that user at home isn’t seen by their friends, only heard. This means that the child does not have to worry about the way they look while using AV1. There is also a ‘passive’ learning setting, signalled by a light on the head of the avatar, which allows the user to simply listen and watch the class, indicating that on that occasion, they do not want to actively participate.

Having changed the lives of over 350 children across Europe, British user Jade Gadd describes AV1 as an ‘integral part of family life now,’ as it allows her to go to the shops with her parents - an experience which she treasures because ‘when life doesn’t have days or nights and you can count the people you see in an average week on one hand, being able to see Tesco is like traveling to the moon.’

With technology having taken over the world as we know it, it makes sense that we begin to harness our newfound technical knowledge to help solve the widespread social issue of loneliness. No Isolation has found an answer to making sure that the young and socially isolated among us can continue to laugh and learn along with their friends, and not succumb to the loneliness and depression that often comes with ongoing medical conditions.

 

February 2, 2018

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