The ANA Avatar XPRIZE initiative starts to develop robot avatar systems

The ANA Avatar XPRIZE website's home page
The ANA Avatar XPRIZE website’s home page

Peter Diamandis, Executive Chairman of XPRIZE, announced the start of a new initiative called ANA Avatar XPRIZE with the aim of developing avatars. A competition that will last four years with a prize of $10 millions offering teams all over the world the chance to develop robotic systems that can’t only move but also transmit visual and auditory sensations interacting with the environment and other people like if the user was on site.

Today’s technologies offer telepresence systems that allow to see and hear what’s happening in other parts of the world and sometimes, through drones or other types of robots, to interact in some way. However, these are limited systems that allow only some actions to be carried out from a distance, very far from real avatars that allow people to operate as if they were on site.

With the sponsorship of All Nippon Airways (ANA), XPRIZE will try to stimulate innovation and bring together the state of the art of various technologies to create a robotic avatar that allows an operator to complete a series of tasks without needing a specific training. In fact the point of the initiative is that the avatar is as close as possible to an extension of the operator’s body, who consequently must be able to use it in a natural way.

A robot avatar could be used for a series of remote operations. The ANA Avatar XPRIZE initiative mentioned possibilities such as taking care of a person at a distance, offering their skills in case of relief in areas affected by some disaster and it’s dangerous to go there physically or to work remotely offering their professional skills without having to move from home.

The teams that will register to participate in the ANA Avatar XPRIZE initiative will have to develop avatars that can complete a series of operations of varying complexity in an environment at least 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) away from the operator. The teams will have to present a plan that will be assessed by a jury by January 31, 2019.

The XPRIZE initiatives take place over a number of phases. In this case two phases are expected to take place in April 2020 and April 2021 with prizes of $1 million each. The $8 millions Grand Prize will be awarded in October 2021. A difference from previous initiatives is that a team that believes they have fulfilled all goals may request to hold the final phase early.

XPRIZE is a non-profit organization that runs competitions aimed at encouraging technological developments in favor of humanity. In this case, the initiative seems to come straight out of a science fiction story but the possible applications are very practical. It will take a few years and sometimes the deadlines are extended but the results could be really interesting!

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