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Elisabeth MENANT
Innovation Trends Manager
3 minutes
On March 28th, students from Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo embodied themselves in telepresence robots, whose uses are already known in hospital environments, to receive their diplomas. These robots were supplied by ANA, the Japanese airline company.

Students embodied in robots

It’s hard to be a studious student and not be able to celebrate your graduation with your classmates in a way that you will never forget. To make up for this lack, ANA airline has provided Tokyo’s Business Breakthrough University with its telepresence robots dressed in the traditional black toga of Japanese graduates. The graduation ceremony was therefore held in a public place! 

Each face was in fact embodied by a tablet representing the future graduate, allowing him to follow the event from home but also to discuss with his classmates through robots interposed because each robot was remotely controlled by the students themselves. A new way to live this ceremony fully or almost fully. Even if it only involved four students (with a strong physical presence of university staff and journalists), the Japanese university hopes that other schools will adopt this solution to limit the gatherings without totally depriving the students of this very important event.

Other schools have opted for the all virtual. For example, one elementary school held its ceremony in Minecraft. The students were present through their avatars.

The ANA airline and its "Society 5.0" project...

What is striking in this experiment is the telepresence robot supplier. Why an airline? ANA is part, like many other companies in Japan, of the “Society 5.0” think-tank program launched by the Japanese government to put technological developments, especially in AI and automation, at the service of the improvement of society and the evolution of civilization. “Society 5.0” aims to converge virtual cyberspace with the physical real world to solve problems such as the increasing demand for energy and food, territorial inequalities and the ageing of society.

In October 2019, the airline company chose to develop a fleet of 1,000 telepresence robots called Newme to enable passengers to travel without leaving home, i.e. without taking a plane. Intended primarily for people who are unable to travel because of a disability or too old age, these robots represent us physically on the territory of our expeditions. A real teleportation! Optional and customizable accessories are even envisaged to allow users to give a more personal aspect to their “Newme”. Travellers will also be able to go shopping.

The airline company wanted to implement this project just before the summer of 2020, at the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games… The Covid-19 fired up this initiative which was embodied in new issues around the remote sharing of an important moment in life for all students. Le Covid-19 a fait feu de cette initiative qui s’est incarnée dans de nouveaux enjeux autour du partage à distance d’un moment de vie important pour tous les étudiants.

ANA shows that it is possible to re-imagine a new service offer around the desire for discovery and travel that will be, whatever happens, always present in the consumer. There is an urgent need to completely rethink the meaning of travel at a time when airlines are already losing more than $250 billion in revenue and when the question of whether some of them will survive three or six months is now being asked.

Elisabeth MENANT
Innovation Trends Manager
To explore with you the transformation of retail with a double approach both editorial and business
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