PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into graduation plans for thousands of students. But many are finding a way to celebrate virtually. For example, grads at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU are preparing to “walk” at graduation, using avatar robots.
Meet Juili Kale, Caleb Dyer and Doug Northcott, all soon-to be-graduates. Kale and Northcott are both getting their master’s degrees, while Dyer is getting his bachelor’s degree. "We've been spending about 35 hours a week investing our time in studying," said Kale.
The graduates were devastated when they heard the news their commencement would be canceled. "In my mind, I was disappointed because I wouldn't be able to have my friends and family here in person," said Dyer.
But the graduates, the professors and the dean of the school refused to give up, and started looking at ways everyone could celebrate together. "We adapted so quickly. ASU digitally transformed this experience for us and made sure we still get to experience this," said Kale.
The school is using mobile telepresence robots, also known as avatar robots, to stand in the students places so they can “walk” virtually. "It's actually an iPad mounted on a Segway," said Northcott.
The avatar robots use live video and audio for an interactive experience in real time."It's really cool because it’s all online and I can be there with my relatives and talk them through it as well," said Northcott.
"So when you are finished, the culminating experience has to be something you need to feel accomplished, you need to celebrate with your classmates who were part of your journey," said Kale.
The virtual commencement on May 11 allows the school to celebrate their students at the time they complete their studies."Once I see my picture and see my name up on that screen during the ceremony it's just gonna feel so exciting" said Dyer.
The icing on the cake is that students will be able to return to ASU and walk in person at one of the future on-campus commencements. "I feel like a winner. I’ve got two graduations when most people only have one," said Northcott.