Beyond the Avatar XPRIZE: ANA airline unveils ambitious vision for telepresence

Telesar robot
Telexistence’s Telesar robot takes its cues from a human wearing a headset and a control apparatus. (University of Tokyo / Tachi Lab)

All Nippon Airways’ sponsorship of a $10 million contest for real-life avatars is just one part of a grander vision that aims to break down barriers through robotic telepresence.

“We see ourselves not as an airplane operator, but as a company that aims to bridge the gaps between the different cultures that exist in our world,” Kevin Kajitani, assistant manager for ANA’s Digital Design Lab and Innovation Research, told GeekWire today. “And that’s where we see the avatars fitting in.”

The way Kajitani and his colleagues define it, avatars are robots that are remotely controlled by humans, enabling their operators to see, hear, feel and interact freely in a remote environment in real time. Such systems already exist — one example is Japan’s touchy-feely Telesar V robot. ANA’s vision is to make a quantum leap in sophistication.

The details behind the ANA Avatar Vision were rolled out tonight in conjunction with the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.

Participation in the ANA Avatar Prize is just one of four pillars in the Japan-based airline’s vision. The three other pillars include:

The world’s first avatar test field: ANA has formed a partnership with southern Japan’s Oita Prefecture to create a regional hub for research and development.

An avatar crowdfunding platform: ANA plans to leverage a crowdfunding platform called WonderFly to raise market awareness, participation and capital for avatar development. XPRIZE teams and other innovators will be able to use the platform to advance their visions, and some avatar-related projects have already begun fundraising on WonderFly.

ANA’s avatar service platform: Even after the XPRIZE program is done, ANA will continue work on an platform that will rapidly release avatar services into the marketplace. Avatar service concepts that are successfully designed and proven at the ANA Avatar Oita Test Field will be fine-tuned for use with an application that’s currently under development. The application would allow anyone in the world to connect to a remote avatar, and form the basis for a new form of telepresence-based transportation.


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