Robots replace Japanese students at graduation amid coronavirus pandemic

Robots replace Japanese students at graduation amid coronavirus pandemic article image

Universities and schools across the globe have been forced to shut down due to the coronavirus, with many graduation ceremonies postponed or cancelled.

But a group of students in Japan are not letting the pandemic ruin their big day and have found a novel way to attend their graduation remotely.

Using Newme telepresence robots, students from Business Breakthrough (BBT) University in Tokyo were able to “walk across the stage” and accept their diploma, all while self-isolating at home.

The robots were dressed in a cap and gown and fitted with tablets on their heads, allowing students to show their face using Zoom.

Students who attended the graduation remotely operated the robots in what is deemed the 'world's first' online graduation ceremony.

One by one, the robots motored toward the podium to receive their diplomas. School staff clapped and said "congratulations" as University President Omae Kenichi Ohmae placed the diplomas on a rack mounted on the robot's midsection.

The Newme robot features a tablet as a face and has four wheels allows it to move autonomously.

Professor Shugo Yanaka, Dean of Global Business Administration, Faculty of Business Administration, BBT University, who planned the graduation ceremony said: “While new corona measures are required, the introduction of avatars can realise a warm online graduation ceremony.”

“We hope this initiative will be helpful to educational institutions who are having difficulty holding graduation and entrance ceremonies.”

Newme is an avatar robot that comprises a base, large display, camera, microphone, speakers, and collision sensors. The robot can move around an environment and communicate with a partner in a remote location.

Shinya Katanozaka, President and CEO of ANA HD, the firm that developed the robots, said: “ANA HD is built on connecting people and Avatars have the potential to connect people across the world in a way that traditional travel cannot and is a continuation of our core beliefs.”

“Our vision of a better-connected planet will rely on the latest innovations in haptic robotics, VR/AR and AI to transform the way that humans interact.

“By placing the world at your fingertips, Avatars will open up new possibilities and help reshape everything from business and education to healthcare and entertainment.”

More than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abbe is expected to declare a state of emergency in the country this week in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.



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