Avatar robots replace students at Japanese graduation ceremonies

avatar robots graduation
FILE PHOTO: Business Breakthrough (BBT) President Kenichi Ohmae attends a graduation ceremony with Ipads attached to 'newme' robots replacing graduating students' presence, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan March 28, 2020. BBT UNIVERSITY/Handout via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – Spring graduation ceremonies in Japan have been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but students at one school were able to attend remotely by controlling avatar robots while logged on at home.

The robots, dubbed “Newme” by developer ANA Holdings, were dressed in graduation caps and gowns for the ceremony at the Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo.

The robots’ “faces” were tablets that displayed the faces of the graduates, who logged on at home and controlled the robots via their laptops.

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

“I think this is truly a novel experience to receive a certificate in a public area while I am in a private space,” Kazuki Tamura said via his computer avatar when receiving his master’s degree diploma.

The university hopes its approach can be adopted by other schools looking to avoid mass gatherings.

Reflecting the human world, however, the school limited the ceremony to just four graduates so that the robots could practice social distancing amid the pandemic.

(Reporting by Hideto Sakai and Akiko Okamoto; Writing by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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