Robotics as an industry is becoming increasingly advanced. But, as a German primary school has showed, they don’t need to be fully articulated in order to be useful. The school is using so-called avatar robots to let sick students attend their classes in a more functional way.
The Pusteblume-Grundschule in Berlin currently has seven-year-old Joshua Martinangeli as a student. Joshua has a severe lung disease that requires a tube in his neck. This makes it impossible to go to school, but his robotic stand-in seems to do the job nicely.
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Joshua’s robotic replacement sits on the desk in his place in the classroom. The robot itself is little more than a vaguely humanoid bust, only it wears a scarf with the school’s badge on it. Behind the ‘bot, Joshua Martinangeli attends lessons and interacts with other students in his classroom.
The robot’s eyes blink when Josh has something to say, allowing for two-way communication. This, in turn, connects Josh to his peers, who talk to the ‘bot as if he’s actually present in class. It’s an actually-practical application of the principle various metaverse-addled companies are pushing. Sometimes someone can’t attend something in person. In that case, it makes sense for a stand-in to turn up. More sense than switching all meetings into a digital, avatar-based format just because, anyway.
The Marzahn-Hellersdorf school district recently purchased four avatar robots — the only district in Berlin to do so. The initial idea was to account for COVID, but it’s proved useful enough to stick around. District education councillor Torsten Kuehne said, “It does happen from time to time, for various reasons, that a child cannot go to class in person. Then, the avatar can give that child a chance to remain part of the school community.”