Ipads attached to 'newme' robots replacing graduating students' presence at a ceremony, wear graduation gowns and hats in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: BBT University/Handout via Reuters
Ipads attached to 'newme' robots replacing graduating students' presence at a ceremony, wear graduation gowns and hats in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: BBT University/Handout via Reuters

Robots replace Japanese students at graduation amid coronavirus

By Hideto Sakai and Akiko Okamoto Time of article published Apr 11, 2020

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Tokyo - 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 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. 

 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to fight new coronavirus infections in major population centres and unveiled a stimulus package he described as among the world's biggest to soften the economic blow.

The state of emergency, giving authorities more power to press people to stay at home and businesses to close, will last through May 6 and be imposed in the capital, Tokyo, and six other prefectures - accounting for about 44% of Japan's population.

Reuters

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