Internet-connected robots that can stream audio and video are increasingly helping housebound sick children and elderly people keep in touch with teachers, family and friends, combating the scourge of isolation and loneliness.
Zoe Johnson, 16, hasn't been to school since she was 12.
She went to the doctor in 2014 "with a bit of a sore throat", and "somehow that became A&E," says her mother, Rachel Johnson. The doctors diagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME for short, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - a debilitating illness affecting the nervous and immune systems. Zoe missed a lot of school but was able to continue with her studies with the help of an online tutor. But "over the years her real-world friendships disappeared because she's not well enough to see anybody," says Ms Johnson.
For the last three months, though, she has been taking classes alongside her former classmates using a "telepresence" robot called AV1. "It makes my life a lot more exciting and makes me feel like I haven't been forgotten," Zoe says.
With the robot's help she was able to take five GCSE exams this year."We're celebrating because she did so much better than we ever dared hope," says Ms Johnson.
Zoe is going on to study History A-level and is looking forward to doing so "with my friends, rather than on my own at home".
By Padraig Belton - 31 August 2018