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East Japan city launches test of avatar robot for educational uses

The avatar robot introduced by the Yaita Municipal Government is seen at the government office in Tochigi Prefecture on Oct. 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Seiichi Yuasa)

YAITA, Tochigi -- The municipal government of this east Japan city has begun experiments to verify the effectiveness of an avatar robot, which can be controlled remotely, for educational purposes.

    Officials in the city of Yaita in Tochigi Prefecture hope that the robot can be utilized in tasks such as virtual field trips, which have been difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic, and in helping children who cannot physically attend school due to illness or injury to participate in classes virtually.

    The self-propelled robot is about 1.5 meters tall, and has a tablet device with a camera and microphone on top. It can be controlled remotely through a computer or by other means. Because students can grasp the situation around them with the robot and have conversations through it like a video phone, they can feel as if they are present.

    The municipal government decided to introduce the robot to utilize the high-speed network environment in place at all elementary and junior high schools in the city and take their educational activities "one step further." The government will loan the robot in sequence to schools that want to use it until the end of March 2022, letting them incorporate it virtual field trips and remote lessons by outside instructors, among other uses.

    The robot has a total project cost of 993,000 yen (about $8,800), two-thirds or which is covered by the Tochigi Prefectural Government's subsidy to support promotion of the use of future technologies.

    Yaita Mayor Junichiro Saito commented, "We hope to explore a future for education that goes beyond online classes."

    (Japanese original by Seiichi Yuasa, Otawara Local Bureau)

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