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'Robot buddies' help Children's Hospital patients go back to school

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Thanks to a new type of robot, spending time in Oxford Children's Hospital no longer needs to mean missing out on normal school activities.

Oxfordshire Hospital School (OHS), which looks after the education of children who are too sick to attend their usual schools, is giving pupils the chance to take part in regular lessons and extracurricular activities with their friends and teachers, using telepresence robots.

The two robots, thought to be the first in schools in the UK, allow users to see, hear, move around and interact in real time with their classmates and teachers, despite not physically being there. 

The child operates the robot from their hospital bed, and can watch and take part in lessons through a camera and speaker.

Classmates and teachers can see and speak to the pupil on a live screen feed, and the pupil can move the wheel-mounted robot around the school, between lessons and to the dinner hall, for example, to spend time with their friends.

Adam was a Year 8 pupil at Wood Green School in Witney, Oxfordshire, when doctors discovered a tumour in his femur. He began an intensive programme of chemotherapy at the Children's Hospital and, though he tried to continue going to school between treatments, this soon became impossible. A three-week hospital stay put his hopes of attending school with any regularity on hold.

Oxfordshire Hospital School was keen to find a way to help him and other children like him to keep up with their peers at the schools they usually attend, and teamed up Adam with a 'robot buddy' called Isaac. Wood Green School was delighted to pilot the robot project with Adam, and his classmates in particular were eager to take responsibility and help to show the pair around.

OHS Assistant Headteacher James Shryane explained: "For a child with a compromised immune system, who might also be suffering from intense tiredness, attending school can be impossible, and this can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.

"When we saw and read about how the robots are helping pupils in the US to reconnect with their studies and their friends, we immediately saw how the technology could work here.

"This pioneering work is truly game-changing, and we're exceptionally proud of Adam."

Adam described his robot as 'an essential part' of his education, and especially talked about being able to finally reconnect with classmates, which was what he missed most about school.

Rob Shadbolt, Headteacher at Wood Green School, added: "As with any pilot project, there is a great deal of learning for us to do. 

"In the future we hope to pass on our experiences and the lessons we have learned to other schools, to help more students around the UK benefit from this technology."

Pictured: Adam taking part in a maths lesson using the telepresence robot (c) Wood Green School

The robot being used by the OHS is the Double 2 from Double Robotics purchased from RoboSavvy