Becoming a Robot: Automation Helps Honor Pandemic Affected 2020 Graduates

Becoming a Robot: Automation Helps Honor Pandemic Affected 2020 Graduates
Becoming a Robot: Automation Helps Honor Pandemic Affected 2020 Graduates
In the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, social gatherings are becoming a distant memory and schools have either closed down or turned to online learning. While sporting events, conferences, family reunions and other gatherings can be rescheduled, what of once-in-a-lifetime events like a graduation? Many seniors have been facing the end of their schooling without the ceremony they worked so hard to earn. To bring its graduates their special day of recognition while still maintaining social distancing standards, Arizona State’s Thunderbird School of Global Management partnered with Double Robotics to provide a unique solution.

Looking a bit like rolling broomsticks with human faces, mobile telepresence robots served as student ‘avatars’, rolling across the stage to receive their award from Dean Sanjeev Khagram. The tablet-computer “heads” of the two-wheeled robots used full two-way audio and video so the graduates were able to experience the feeling of walking across stage and interacting with the Dean, no matter where in the world they were located. The entire May 11 ceremony was broadcast via YouTube so parents and friends could be part of the event.

Explained Dean Khagram: “We teach our students how to maximize the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by embracing global ingenuity and innovation, so leveraging transformative technologies like mobile telepresence robots for an unprecedented commencement was a fitting final lesson for the Class of 2020.”

Providing safety in the time of COVID-19 while still giving the students the recognition they deserve was the primary driver of this effort, said Khagram. “We’d love to be there to give [graduates] a hug or a high five. But if there is one thing the pandemic has shown more than ever…it’s that the digital transformation is underway and accelerating,” he said. 

During his remarks, Khagram said those who can embrace new technologies and achieve a “digital global mindset” would become the leaders that take us into the increasingly digital world.

The ceremony consisted of some 140 graduates and four rented Double 3 robots. While only the students who won special awards earned the treat of being able to maneuver the robots from behind the podium, each student sent in personal photos or videos that were loaded onto the robot screen. Therefore, each graduate received the treat of being able to see themselves in robot form.

It was fascinating to watch their robots maneuver across stage and around the podium so students could give their acceptance speeches. While the Thunderbird support staff had time to get familiar with the robots and their usage, in order to run the ceremony, it was evident that the graduate awardees were not as familiar maneuvering the robots. Yet, their fascination as well with this innovative use of technology was evident throughout the ceremony. “I want to thank ASU and Thunderbird for their innovative design to hold this ceremony for us, while keeping us all safe,” expressed graduate and award-winner Juili Amit Kale. “I was able to receive my award and converse with Dr. Khagram with the help of robotics. Isn’t that innovative?”

The robots represent just one of the ways that businesses and organizations of all types are adapting to the COVID-19 environment through the innovative use of technology. Whether it be the use of video-conferencing to hold virtual events and meetings, or the use of remote monitoring to enable plant workers to conduct their work duties from home, or the use of 3D printing technologies to help deliver needed medical equipment, companies and organizations are finding new ways to innovate and deliver value to customers every day, even now. It will be fascinating to see the innovations and efforts, like that of the Thunderbird School and Double Robotics collaboration, in the near future.

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Cory Fogg is a Content Editor for

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