A university in Japan has decided to cancel its graduation ceremony, due to social distancing measures brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead a team of robots, with iPads for faces, are standing in for the students and collecting diplomas on their behalf.

Going by the name ‘Newme’, the robots have been developed by ANA Holdings as a tech-based solution, so that students wouldn’t have to travel to and from the Business Breakthrough University (BBT) in the capital city of Tokyo.

The ‘avatar robots’ are very lifelike, appearing in graduation gowns and caps themselves as students control their motions remotely from home using computers.

“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,” Professor Shugo Yanaka, Dean of the Department of Global Management at BBT University told Euronews Living. “I suddenly came up with an idea of Avatar Graduation Ceremony,” he says, adding that he wanted it to be like a “teleportation experience.”

Professor Yanaka first raised the idea at a faculty meeting held in February and managed to bring the project to life in only one and a half months. This should be a “positive message” to the world, Yanaka concludes, saying that he hopes it will “energise people who would like to find a breakthrough to organise ceremonies/events” in this difficult period.


The ‘Avatar Graduation Ceremony’ might be one innovative way to stop students travelling amid the coronavirus crisis, but it’s not the only tech solution in response to cancelled events and gatherings.

Pop artists have been turning to Instagram to livestream concerts from their living rooms, as going out and about to gigs is no longer possible. Theatres are livestreaming plays and operas straight to our homes and schools are operating via e-learning portals. Employees are functioning via meetings on video applications like Zoom and even socially distanced weddings are moving online.

Climate activists have been calling for more meetings to take place via video call for some time, as the environmental crisis continues to escalate. The travel sector accounts for 8 per cent of global carbon emissions overall and travelling for work covers a large chunk of that. In 2018, multinational accounting firm PwC estimated that business travel was the single biggest contributor to its carbon footprint as a company, making up 53 per cent.

As a result, demand for virtual meetings is already soaring. “Nobody likes getting up at 4am to get to an airport to spend a couple of days in meetings without ever seeing a place. It’s not travelling, it’s just moving where you work,” Fred Mazzella, founder of car-pooling service BlaBlaCar told Wired.

“It’s good for the environment and everyone’s work-life balance.”