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Telepresence classroom robots trialed for absent students

A school in Japan is turning to robots to tackle rising truancy rates.

The school in Kumamoto, southwest Japan, will allow absent students to control telepresence robots in the classroom. Officials behind the initiative hope the setup will eventually encourage the students to return to school, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

In the next couple of months, two robots will be used for the pilot program, each sporting microphones, speakers, cameras, and a tablet to enable two-way communication. The student at home will control the 1-meter-tall robot via a computer.

With its attached wheels, the robots will even be able to move around the school, though admittedly they might need a hand when navigating tricky obstacles such as stairs.

Kumamoto, as well as other parts of Japan, has been seeing rising absenteeism at schools for the last four years, with some of it attributed to mental and physical issues that emerged during the pandemic.

Recent efforts by the city to improve the situation have included streaming classes to students at home in a virtual classroom setting. While the system has reportedly helped to reduce the anxiety of students reluctant to attend classes in person, it’s hoped that the telepresence robots will help to increase interaction between students at home and those in the classroom to make the experience feel more natural and help build confidence for a potential return to school.

“Aside from letting them view the classes, the robots allow students to move freely in space and communicate with others at their own will,” an education board official told the Mainichi newspaper. “Hopefully, this can help lower the mental hurdles for truant students.”

The trial is expected to last until March and should give officials enough data to see if the system is worth rolling out more widely.

While telepresence robots have been around for some time, they’re yet to take off in a big way. But that hasn’t stopped major firms like Honda from exploring the technology and coming up with a design of its own.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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