Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Robot to be tested in ill boy's class

Keir and RoboKeir
Image caption Keir can control his robot from an ipad

A 10-year-old schoolboy with a rare auto-inflammatory condition is to be allowed to send a robot to class in his place to see if it allows him to keep up with lessons.

Keir Wallace's father John said his son loved school but his condition meant he was often absent.

He has been pushing for St John's RC School in Portobello, Edinburgh, to allow a trial of the robot.

This would allow Keir to take part in lessons remotely.

The robot, which the 10-year-old has nicknamed RoboKeir, is a 15in (38cm) head and shoulder model that can sit on a desk and allow Keir to see and hear the lessons taking place.

He will also be able to communicate via speakers with the teacher and even whispering to classmates sitting next to the robot.

Mr Wallace told BBC Scotland's Kaye Adams programme that Keir and his mother were the only two people in the UK with auto-inflammatory condition FCAS2. (Familial Cold Auto-inflammatory Syndrome type 2).

Image caption The robot is controlled from an ipad

He said that flare-ups can lead to skin rashes, joint pain, headaches, nausea and drowsiness.

Mr Wallace said access to a new drug had cut down on the length and intensity of the flare-ups Keir suffered but he was still missing about a quarter of the school year.

He said: "Whereas before he used to get one to four really painful flares a month lasting for three or four days now he might only get one a month but he would still be in pain a lot of the time."

Isolated from friends

He said his son was very keen on school and wanted to be a lawyer but his school attendance was making learning a challenge.

His father was also concerned he could become isolated from friends.

Mr Wallace said: "Before we started on the new drugs his attendance was about 50%.

"We noticed invites to birthday parties became less frequent. He would be forgotten about."

His father's solution is to send the robot into class on days Keir cannot make it.

Image caption The robot is officially called AV1

The robot, officially called AV1, is the brainchild of Norwegian company No Isolation.

It was designed for children who were in hospital for a long time going through various medical procedures and wanted to continue to attend school from their hospital bed.

The tele-presence robot is about 15in high and about 8in across.

The robot can spin around 360 degrees so that it can take part in all types of class activities and it connects to the internet either via 4G or wifi.

The patient at home has an app on their ipad where they control it completely.

Mr Wallace said: "If we take the AV1 into class instead of him then he is basically in class.

"He's able to speak to his friends and it can move around. He can put his hand up if he wants to take part in the class.

"Or if he wants to take part in the class just passively, if he is in a bit too much pain and just wants to keep watching the class, then he just presses a button on his ipad and the head changes colour to blue and the teacher knows that he is still there but he is not actively taking part."

Mr Wallace said the robot can be leased for £1,800 a year, which includes the 4G connection.

He currently only has the AV1 on trial because his 11-year-old daughter Rowan was reviewing it for a magazine that specialises in rare diseases.

Mr Wallace has been pushing for the school to agree to test the system with a view to funding it for Keir.

He said the school had now agreed to trial the system in the week beginning Monday 9 October.

The City of Edinburgh Council confirmed the trial would take place but said no further decisions had been made.