Using robot avatars in bioinformatics training

Robot avatar takes part in group activity during bioinformatics course

Using robot avatars in bioinformatics training

8 Mar 2018 - 22:11


  • For the first time, EMBL-EBI Training enabled two new mothers to complete a course in genomics using robot avatars 
  • The students are NHS professionals who want to increase their knowledge of genomic medicine 
  • The technology, initially developed to help children with long-term illness attend school, could be a good solution for adult students with mobility issues

The students who take part in EMBL-EBI's Training programme come from all over the world and all walks of life. In 2018, however, the Genomic Medicine Masters Programme had two very different attendees. They were only about 40cm tall, and were made of plastic, but they were doing a very important job - helping two postpartum National Health Service professionals continue their training in genomic medicine.

The Genomic Medicine Masters Programme is a University of Cambridge course delivered in collaboration with EMBL-EBI, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and the Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences. Health Education England’s Genomic Education Programme commissioned the course and funded the students.

See video: How EMBL-EBI Training used robot avatars to help two new mothers learn about genomics.

 “This was a bit of an experiment for us, but I would say it was a successful one,” explains Sarah Morgan, Scientific Training Coordinator at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). “The robot avatars allowed the two students to participate in wet lab and computational biology modules without physically being in the room. We also used virtual machines to enable the two students to access our training infrastructure using their own laptops. This meant they could follow the lectures and practical activities just as easily as the students in the room could.”

Using robot avatars allowed the two students to continue their training, while caring for their newborns. It’s certainly inspired us to think outside the box in terms of the needs of our students.”

EMBL-EBI Training aims to help students and scientists at all levels make the most of publicly available biological data. The team offers on-site and off-site courses on a wide range of topics, plus many Train online activities and Webinars, which allow students to complete the training in their own time and from the comfort of their own home.“The AV1 robots we used were originally developed to help children with long-term illness attend school, and participate in class in an immersive manner,” says Gemma Chandratillake, Course Director, and Education & Training Lead for the East of England NHS Genomic Medicine Centre. “Our effort really paid off and the students were extremely happy with the results.”

Contact the news team

Vicky Hatch | Communications Officer

Oana Stroe | Senior Communications Officer

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