As has been the case all around the world, public events and gatherings have been either canceled or indefinitely postponed in Japan. This includes spring graduation ceremonies at universities, and conventional thinking would suggest that the ceremonies simply be held at a date in the future when the coronavirus pandemic has mellowed out. However, a Japanese university decided to take a different route: it allowed students to remotely attend their grad ceremony by controlling avatar robots from their homes.
Developed by ANA Holdings, these robots are popularly referred to as “Newme” machines, and one can see why. Dressed in graduation caps and gowns and hosting tablets displaying the faces of the graduate students, these robots did look like mechanic alter egos of the students as they motored around the grad ceremony at the Breakthrough Business University in Tokyo.
The students were able to maneuver the robots remotely from their homes via their laptops. In a bizarre proceeding, the robots advanced toward the podium one by one to receive their diplomas. University faculty clapped and declared congratulatory messages as the University President Kenichi Ohmae placed each respective diploma on a rack mounted on the robot’s midsection.
The students appeared to be more impressed than freaked out by this rare event necessitated by social distancing measures during the global pandemic.
“I think this is truly a novel experience to receive a certificate in a public area while I am in a private space,” student Kazuki Tamura said via his computer avatar when receiving his master’s degree diploma.
The university is hopeful that other institutes will be able to adopt similar approaches in order to continue the usual order of things even during such uncertain times.
Also known as telepresence robots, the “Newme” machines have a whole host of applications, including going out to run errands without actually leaving your house.