Photo/IllutrationAvatar robot Ori Hime is used at a science lesson on Oct. 31 at the Tomobe-Higashi special support school in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Hiroyuki Kojima)

KASAMA, Ibaraki Prefecture--When it comes to remote learning for children, this robot knows all the right tricks.

The prefectural-run, Tomobe-Higashi special support school has introduced a device that allows hospitalized children not only to attend classes, but also nod, turn toward and hear and respond to their fellow students.

It even claps.

The trial, which started on Oct. 31, is aimed at expanding the "scope of learning" by allowing such children to interact in the classroom in a manner that makes them feel as if they are actually there.

Under the system, the students use a tablet computer to control their avatar devices, called Ori Hime, equipped with a microphone, camera and speakers.

Kanae Sudo, 11, who stays at the Ibaraki Children's Hospital in Mito, used the robot from a room at the medical center on Oct. 31 to attend a science class for fifth-year elementary school pupils.

Ori Hime was set on a desk next to that of an 11-year-old male classmate so that Kanae could learn about river functions and other topics presented by the teacher.

When spoken to by the teacher, Kanae used the device's nod function, and when students figured out a correct answer, Kanae's avatar turned to the classmate and clapped.

Kanae said it was her third time taking a class through Ori Hime.

"It's fun to turn the robot in directions I want to look in," she said.

The male classmate who took the class with Kanae also commented on the system, saying, “It felt like Kanae was really there beside me."

As the only such school in the prefecture, Tomobe-Higashi has 22 students on site and 40 pupils who take lessons from five in-hospital classrooms.

The new system was adopted because it was previously impossible for pupils to look around the classroom or express how they feel, as the cameras were effectively stationary under the remote study program using tablets introduced two years ago, according to school representatives.

The school operator leased Ori Hime from its developer in Tokyo and started testing the equipment for two months from October.

"The robot can easily be operated, and students feel like they are actually attending class," said Noboru Tachi, the assistant principal of the school. "We will seriously consider introducing it on a full-scale basis."