AI for Good: How robotic avatars could play a key role

May 23 2019

Colin Peartree, ANA Avatar XPRIZE Associate

Imagine you had a robotic copy of yourself – identical in height, weight, mobility and dexterity. Now, raise your arms, turn your head, bend your knees. If you can do it, then your robotic avatar can, too. 

In the future, you will be able to take control of your avatar, and experience what it senses in real time. Shake hands with someone in Tokyo, and you feel the firmness of the handshake in Los Angeles. Scoop sand in the tropics, and feel the grains run through your fingers in Central Europe.
What you’re imagining is a glimpse into the possible future of human connectivity, the synthesis of existing technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality, brain-machine interfaces and more. Ask yourself, where would you send your avatar if you could not go yourself?

Avatars also have significant potential to do good across the world, from remote healthcare to disaster relief -- and much more.

The ANA Avatar XPRIZE

That’s why XPRIZE last year launched the USD 10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE -- a four-year global competition on the development of an avatar system that will transport a human’s senses, actions, and presence to a remote location in real time.

This competition will create new ways to bypass the barriers of distance and time. The ability to transport oneself to distant places would also, we hope, lead to a more connected world for everyone. 

Next week, the ANA Avatar XPRIZE is coming to the AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva, Switzerland for its first-ever Team Summit, in which registered teams from across four continents along with XPRIZE staff, competition sponsor ANA and a number of other organizations will come together acting as partners in support. This will be the first in-person gathering of our teams, who are in pursuit of advancing to the final round of testing in 2022, demonstrating that they have created the best avatar systems. 

The fact that the first Team Summit is happening in conjunction with the AI for Good Global Summit is no coincidence. The spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration fostered at AI for Good is one we encourage teams competing in the Avatar XPRIZE to adopt. 

The potential of robotic avatars

Avatar applications are not limited, however, to day-to-day interactions. We see the potential for avatars to take on many different forms and be used in numerous scenarios. Chief among these are:

  • Providing Care - Avatars could give the experience of your presence and care to anyone instantly, regardless of distance. Family members living far away from their loved ones would have the ability to visit and care for them without traveling. What’s more, it could allow healthcare professionals to provide care to those in need, wherever they are.
  • Disaster Relief - Avatars could potentially play important roles in disaster preparation and relief efforts, transporting critical life-saving skills to remote, disaster-struck areas where it is too dangerous for humans to physically go.
  • Multi-purpose Utility - Experts across many fields could utilize avatars to provide unique services and rare trade skills critical for maintenance or repairs, research and exploration, and the imaginable in between.

Next steps for the competition

Team registration for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE closes on September 30, 2019, and all active teams will submit their qualifying documents for a place in the four-year competition. Creating an avatar system will require a full-time and highly interdisciplinary approach. 

In this competition, cooperation will almost surely be required in order for the strongest teams to form, and for the most robust solutions to be created. 

Similarly, the pursuit of attaining the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is a great effort that demands cooperation among industries and individuals alike; the opportunity for all attendees to learn from one another is ripe. 

We highly encourage AI for Good Global Summit attendees to reach out to Avatar XPRIZE staff (avatar@xprize.org) to talk more about the competition and to connect with some of the active teams who are in Geneva. 

Colin Peartree, ANA Avatar XPRIZE Associate