Avatar Kids: Linking soft skills for an improved healing process

Photo: Philipp Mahler with avatar robot

Philipp Mahler presents the avatar robot at MEDICA preview; © beta-web/ Scholze

There is perhaps nothing worse for little long-term care patients than to be separated from friends or peers at school for months. The Avatar Kids telepresence project was created to maintain social interaction and academic achievement. The little patients are able to participate in school instruction with the help of small robots and are subsequently reconnected with their social environment.

In this interview with MEDICA.de, Philip Mahler, Chief Technical Officer at Avatarion, talks about the technology behind this and the positive effect of the small robot on the child’s healing process.

How does the robot-human interaction work for little long-term care patients?

Mahler: Avatarion creates the system that makes interaction between young patients and their classmates possible in the first place. We have different components that play a role in this: among others, it includes the robot that is manufactured by a partner company. The software is programmed by our company. We purchase the tablets from our partner Samsung.

The child gets a tablet in the hospital. With it, the child can control the robot that is located in the school and is also equipped with a tablet. The patient can lift the robot’s arm or move the head to look around the classroom for example. The child is able to express emotions such as laughing or sobbing with the robot. All of this is supported by videotelephony, that being images and audio. This way, all participants are able to see and hear.

Photo: Children in a classroom learn with avatar robot

Children in a classroom are learing together with their classmate via avatar robot; © Avatar Kids

What advantages does this type of communication have for little long-term care patients?

Mahler: The children’s social rehabilitation is the primary goal. We have created a process that enables sick patients to communicate with their social environment.

There is the term "shadow children". These are children who have been forgotten in terms of school environment since they are not able to participate in school instruction over a long period. This particularly applies to long-term care patients because they are often not able or allowed to visit their classmates. The Avatar Kids project counteracts this process. The children are able to regularly participate in school and communicate with their classmates. They can explain what is happening to them right now from a medical perspective and how they are doing.

Another positive aspect applies to the healing process. The children are in far better spirits thanks to the social interaction. They are happier when they are able to communicate with familiar faces. In the end, the child is able to participate in school. Depending on the disease, this occurs more or less, of course, but it is ensured that the child is not missing too much instruction and is falling behind.

"Soft skills connected" is the title of your lecture. What soft skills are actually being connected here?

Mahler: The robot is an avatar, a digital representative that can convey emotions such as joy or grief. It actually makes it possible in the first place to respond to the child in the hospital using soft skills. Thanks to Avatar Kids, a teacher is able to explain easier why the sick child is not at school. The fellow classmates can also directly ask the child in its current environment and see how it is doing. The visual and acoustic components enrich the project.

Avatar Kids has already been well received in hospitals and schools in Switzerland. How are things in Germany?

Mahler: We have approached organizations and are currently in talks with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. They are very interested.

Foto: Melanie Günther

© Barbara From-

The interview was conducted by Melanie Günther and translated by Elena O'Meara.