The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has put a halt on many important events across the globe. This ranges from major sporting events like Formula One, to film and music festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW).
But perhaps nothing stings more than the unlikelihood of a proper graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020.
After spending years in university, we all look forward to stepping up on that stage and collecting our well-deserved scrolls. Unfortunately, the coronavirus doesn’t care about what you want.
But one university in Malaysia is proposing the use of robots as real-life student avatars in a pandemic-stricken world.
Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) is a public university located in the state of Terengganu, along the North-East coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
Like many educational institutions across the country, UniSZA has been forced to cancel all convocation ceremonies in order to abide by the government-imposed Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), which prohibits large gatherings.
Of course, it’s always important to remember that these measures are put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But the pain still rings true for those who worked hard to finish their diplomas and degrees in 2020.
In an effort to lift spirits and inspire hope, the university posted a video on YouTube showcasing the use of robots as physical placeholders for graduating students who may never get to experience a graduation ceremony in real life.
In a corresponding post on their Facebook page, UniSZA lamented the fact that the coronavirus has caused a wide disruption with important activities like convocation ceremonies. The majority of them have been postponed to 2021.
But they also demonstrated a sense of optimism for what the future of education may look like, in the face of the coronavirus and the ‘new normal’.
“Where UniSZA would like to say that, we are ready to implement a virtual convocation if necessary,” reads the Facebook post, adding that it can be used as a viable alternative to the traditional convocation ceremony, especially for students who live far away and don’t have easy access to transport.
“It’s no longer a fantasy, but it can be made a reality,” affirms the university.
How does it work exactly?
In their YouTube video, the robots, “Naseem” and “Seeba”, were draped in graduation gowns, complete with their own mortarboards.
Using the power of live-streaming, the graduates’ faces were displayed on screens located on the robots’ heads. Of course, this is just a cute way of emulating a “real” face. But because of the remote-controlled nature of the robots, students will still able to interact with their surroundings, vicariously of course.
Thanks to deployable arms, the robots can even collect the students’ hard-earned academic scrolls.
Reactions to the robots were mixed.
A lot of Facebook users who commented on the post placed heavy emphasis on the opportunity to physically collect their academic scrolls in person, seeing that the use of robots took the vital human element out of the picture.
A few users even stated that they’d be more than willing to wait for a delayed convocation, just so they can rejoice in the achievement in-person.
Others expressed excitement for what the future really holds, especially in the name of technological advancement.
UniSZA has also stressed that the video they posted was only a proof-of-concept, to be tabled for further discussions in the future, should more interest arise.
What do you feel about the use of robots for graduation ceremonies?
Cover image sourced from UniSZA / Facebook.