ANA funds $10 Million avatar quest at SXSW

All Nippon Airways would like humans to have working avatars right here on Earth. During SXSW in Austin, the Japanese airline has announced a four-year competition  – ANA Avatar XPRIZE – to aid development of technologies that might support a “multipurpose avatar system” that could offer aid to people through a remote operator.

The $10 million prize envisions robotic avatars which are remotely operated by humans to offer services as daily care givers for the elderly, as disaster relief support in environments that aren’t hospitable to humans, or to perform necessary repairs in areas which may be impractical or unmanageable for people to reach. Avatars will be expected to hear, see and interact with remote environments.

XPRIZE founder and executive chairman Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, who developed the prize in partnership with ANA says:

“Our ability to physically experience another geographic location, or to provide on-the-ground assistance where needed, is limited by cost and the simple availability of time. The ANA Avatar XPRIZE can enable creation of an audacious alternative that could bypass these limitations allowing us to more rapidly and efficiently distribute skill and hands-on expertise to distant geographic locations where they are needed, bridging the gap between distance, time and cultures.”

To qualify for the prize, Avatars must allow untrained operators to complete a combination of simple and complex tasks from at least 100 km away. The tasks must be completed in a variety of real-world scenarios.

The ANA Avatar XPRIZE originated from XPRIZE’s six-month concept incubator program called Visioneers, led by scientist Dr. Harry Kloor. ANA’s participating Visioneers came up with the avatar concept which was approved in 2016 by a panel of 250 mentors from public and private sectors, the sciences and the arts.

Shinya Katanozaka, president and CEO of ANA HOLDINGS, says:

“As the sole provider of global long-distance physical transportation, the airline industry has long served as the catalyst for global relationships, business, diplomacy, and mutual understanding. However, our ability to provide this service throughout the world is limited by physical infrastructure and current technology. By launching the ANA Avatar XPRIZE, ANA hopes to break through the remaining barriers that exist to bring about an unprecedented era of physical connection, resource sharing, and collaboration for a brighter future for all.”

Competing teams will have to submit a complete competition plan to an independent panel of expert judges by January 31, 2019. Two milestone competitions will follow in April 2020 and April 2021, with a $1 million prize purse on offer each year.

The grand prize of $8 million will be awarded in October 2021 to the team that can complete a series of final performance tests to validate that the avatar’s capabilities meet the original objectives. However, in a unique twist, if any team believes they have achieved the goals and objectives they can call for the finals to be held early.

There are a number of other facets to ANA’s avatar vision:

  • ANA AVATAR Oita Test Field – ANA has launched the world’s first avatar test field, in partnership with Oita Prefecture in southern Japan, to boost research and development of existing avatar technologies.
  • ANA AVATAR Crowdfunding – the company’s crowdfunding platform, WonderFLY, will be leveraged to raise market awareness, participation, and capital for avatar development.
  • ANA AVATAR Service Platform – a concept to release avatar services into the marketplace. Avatar service concepts that are successfully designed, tested, and proven at the test field will be released to the public via the ANA AVATAR application which is currently under construction. This application will allow anyone in the world to easily connect to a remote avatar.

Avatars need not be blue to qualify, but it can’t hurt.

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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