A Norwegian Startup is bringing true value to robotics

The AV1 robot is pictured in a busy classroom. It rests on the second row of benches.

writer icon Samuel Christiansen     Estera Kluczenko   |   Tech     🕐 14. Dec. 2018

Developments within the field of robotics always seem to grab headlines. Progress is commonly picked up and reported by the media and it gains a lot of public attention.

Nimble robots are not everything
At times, there seems to be a great deal of focus on robots with impressive physical specifications and human-like abilities. Such as the robot creations from Boston Dynamics, who started with a four-legged robot and have progressed to an upright, autonomous, and highly agile robot. 

Meanwhile, rather little emphasis is given to robots who have a very clear and beneficial reason for existing, despite perhaps not being the most athletic or free-thinking of their kind.

In Norway, one startup is using robots to tackle the issue of involuntary loneliness and social isolation. The startup is called No Isolation and their most famous robot, AV1, is designed to aid children who are too unwell to be in school. AV1 goes in their place, and is the eyes ears and voice in the classroom.

Roughly 6 000 children miss out on school in Norway every year, as a result of a long-term illness. 

An opportunity to interact

The child controls the robot from home via an app on a tablet. They can also listen and talk in order to interact. If the child would like to participate and ask a question, instead of putting up their hand they can light up the head of the robot in order to attract the teacher’s attention.

The founder of No Isolation, Karen Dolva, wanted to make technology what is useful. She told Reuters about her experience of tech companies being too focused on “making efficient people faster, which is so sad”. 

According to Statistic Norway, 680 000 people in Norway are suffering from loneliness. The people most at risk are children and the elderly.

Looking after the elderly
No Isolation has also developed a product aimed at improving contact between the elderly and their families. KOMP is a digital communication device that resembles a small screen with an accompanying dial. Children and grandchildren can send videos, pictures, messages, and make video calls, to their parents and grandparents.

With a foundation built on strong values, and a very clear motivation, No Isolation’s robots are a far cry from the physically impressive and even fear-inducing creations from Boston Dynamics.

The robot cafe
Another situation where robots are used creatively occurs, perhaps unsurprisingly, in Japan. A cafe in Tokyo is staffed by robots. The robots are controlled remotely by people who have restricted movement due to illness or injury.

The people steering the robots from their beds are paid for their work, just as any regular worker would be. The robots being put to work in the cafe were developed by a Japanese startup called Ory. Initially, the robots were built to assist people with disabilities in their own home.

The Tokyo cafe is presently only a pop-up, but the creators are campaigning to raise money via crowdfunding.

With impressive feats of technology, companies such as Boston Dynamics may dominate the tech headlines. However, the value-based robots that provide a measurable and positive effect, should not be underestimated.

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