Japan’s BBT University used telepresence robots to hold a virtual graduation

[BBT University in Tokyo used telepresence robots and Zoom to produce a virtual graduation ceremony for its students, as reported in this story from Business Insider (based on a report from the University). Coverage in LADbible adds this detail:

“The novel and innovative ceremony was the idea of Professor Shugo Yanaka, Dean of Global Business Administration at the university. He said: ‘While new coronavirus 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 ceremonies and entrance ceremonies.’”

Interesting Engineering’s report on the BBT University effort ends with this: “However original our ways of using technology to bridge the gap between social functions amid social distancing and COVID-19, one could say: the more we do it, the more technological mediation itself takes center-stage in our lives.”

The motivation was very different, but Yahoo! notes that “This isn’t the first time robots have been used to help students graduate. In 2018, the University of Glasgow used similar machines to help three of its [international online distance learning] students receive their diplomas remotely, according to the BBC.”

Finally, a story in Medium describes a very different way to stage a virtual graduation in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.


A Japanese University used remote-controlled robots to hold a virtual graduation

Mary Meisenzahl
April 5, 2020

Students at Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo didn’t get a traditional ceremony due to the coronavirus, but they had the next best thing. Using “Newme” mobile robots with a tablet to host a Zoom call, graduates had the experience of walking across the stage and accepting their diplomas at the Hotel Grand Palace in Tokyo, virtually on March 28.

As COVID-19 has infected more than a million people and closed schools around the world, students have found creative ways to recreate cancelled events. A group of eight elementary school students held a virtual graduation ceremony in the popular game “Minecraft.” Students at the University of Pennsylvania were inspired by that ceremony, and recreated their entire campus in “Minecraft,” with plans to hold graduation and other events online.

Virtual gatherings have become more common, but BBT University took a novel approach, using remotely controlled robots to make the ceremony more physical. Here’s what it was like.

The ceremony was only partially virtual, with four students and a few administrators in attendance physically.

This ceremony was made possible through ANA Group’s “Newme” robot, which is designed to work as a remotely controlled, customizable avatar that is also being used for museum visits and other outings limited by the coronavirus.

The avatars, which have a tablet in place of a face, were dressed in typical graduation caps and gowns.

Graduates watched and experienced the ceremony through Zoom.

The avatars were controlled by the few graduates who physically attended the ceremony.

When a graduate’s name was called, the avatar moved to the university’s president, Omae Kenichi, who stood on stage. The graduate’s face appeared on the tablet so they could experience receiving a diploma.

Zoom allowed just a few avatars to be used for all the graduates, without the risk of all the people in one room together.

Management students from all over Japan and the world tuned in from their homes.

The ceremony was conducted as traditionally as possible, with the University’s president giving an address.

Dean of Global Business Administration Professor Shugo Yanaka planned the virtual ceremony. He said that he hopes BBT’s ceremony can be helpful for other institutions working to hold events.


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