Meet AV Howard, the robot helping one cancer patient stay in school | Tech News

Howard with his robot twin, AV Howard (Picture: The Chartwell Children’s Cancer Trust)

If endless bad news and awful weather has you in need of a mood boost, then say hello to ‘AV Howard’.

That’s the call ringing through the halls of a south-west London school as one student’s robot alter-ego is carried from classroom to classroom.

The real Howard, aged 12, has missed more than half of his school days this year due to intensive chemotherapy. In December, he was diagnosed with a rare form of arm cancer, and began treatment a month later. 

But now, if he misses a lesson while at home or in hospital, AV Howard can take his place, allowing him to attend lessons and catch up with his friends virtually. The robot, made up of a small white plastic head and shoulders, has taken to school life well, sporting the school’s red, white and blue tie.

Teachers and pupils have even been given special training to help keep both the AV and real Howards involved in lessons.

Using the robot’s camera, Howard can read books and worksheets, while a speaker allows him to answer questions and join in with the class – or chat to his friends during breaks.

Howard told the BBC that although living with his tumour is ‘painful’, AV Howard has ‘made a really big impact for someone like me, who cares about their school’.

AV Howard helps the real Howard join in lessons (Picture: BBC)

During the day, his friends take turns carrying AV Howard between lessons.

‘It feels quite good because we’re doing the right thing for a good cause, and to be able to help him is an honour,’ said student Campbell, speaking to the BBC.

Fellow pupil and family friend Juliette said: ‘It’s really fun when he’s on, when you’re taking him through the corridor, because everyone is like, “Hi AV Howard!”, which is really nice to see.’

Headteacher Martin O’Sullivan added: ‘For a student who’s got that level of medical treatment, the fact that they’re not in school regularly, it’s not only about them falling behind in what they’re learning.

AV Howard is carried between classes in a special backpack (Picture: The Chartwell Children’s Cancer Trust)
In Germany, another robot helps seven-year-old Joshua continue his lessons while he’s at home (Picture: Reuters)

‘Not being part of something on a regular basis is not good for their wellbeing, for their mental health.

‘For students who can’t access education for whatever variety of reasons, this is going to be the future.’

AV Howard was found thanks to the charity Momentum, which helps children facing serious illness and their families. The charity sourced Howard’s robot twin from Chartwell Children’s Cancer Trust, and hopes the technology can help more children.

‘We really try to get to know the family to find out what they need,’ said Emma Searle, a family support manager at Momentum, speaking to the BBC.

‘One of Howard’s needs was accessing his education, which was really important to him, so we were able to put in that referral to Chartwell Children’s Cancer Trust for one of the robots.’

AV Howard was developed by the Norwegian firm No Isolation, which is working to bring life-changing technology to young patients, families and schools.

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