Business Breakthrough University officials used avatar robots so students could experience graduation (Credit: BBT University)

Japan has always been at the forefront of robotic technology. Over the years, the androids have been deployed to work in banks, run hotels, and even serve as personal assistants to the elderly. Now, in what is being hailed as an "industry first," a Tokyo university has used avatar robots to enable students to "attend" their graduation ceremony without leaving home.

Graduating students from all over the world logged in via video-conference platform Zoom (Credit: BBT University)

Professor Shugo Yanaka, Dean of Global Business Administration at Business Breakthrough University (BBT), came up with the brilliant idea after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to rethink the in-person spring graduation ceremony. He told Euronews Living, "We knew that there were lots of students who would like to attend the graduation ceremony but wouldn't be able to do so due to Coronavirus concern. I suddenly came up with an idea of the Avatar Graduation Ceremony."

The graduating students' faces were displayed on the digital tablet attached to the robots' heads ( Credit: BBT University)

The event, which was held at Tokyo's Hotel Grand Palace on March 28, 2020, started with university president Kenichi Omae delivering an uplifting commencement speech to the students attending via video-conferencing platform Zoom. Then began the virtual graduation ceremony.

Each time a student's name was called out by a moderator, one of the two remotely operated "Newme" avatar robots, dressed in graduation caps and gowns, motored to the podium to accept the diploma from the president. The graduate was able to experience the event, and hear the handful of school staff in attendance clap and shout-out their "congratulations," via a digital tablet attached to each Newme's head. Once Mr. Omae had placed the certificate on a rack, mounted on the Newme's midsection, the beaming students remotely posed with him for an official graduation photo.

Each student "posed" for a photo with the university's president (Credit: BBT University)

Following the groundbreaking ceremony, a graduate of BBT University who graduated via Newme said, "When I enrolled, I never thought I would operate my avatar and attend the graduation ceremony. However, receiving a diploma in public is a novel experience."

Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Newme creator ANA Holdings has plans to deploy the slim, 4.9-foot (1.5-meter) tall machine to "travel" to destinations worldwide on behalf of humans. The company believes it will enable business people to attend meetings remotely, allow people with mobility issues to go on "vacation," and help doctors treat critically-ill patients in hard-to-reach places, such as Antarctica or the space station. The robots could also enable experts to access disaster-stricken areas or war zones without endangering themselves.

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