Power company Vector has teamed up with Auckland-based Soul Machines to develop a human-like digital teacher to deliver Vector’s ‘Be Sustainable with Energy’ schools programme, which has been running since 2005.
Soul Machines specialises in creating digital representations of the human face that are able to speak and display facial expressions.
Vector says its educational avatar, dubbed ‘Will’ uses Soul Machines’ autonomous animation platform, which is modelled on the way the human brain and nervous system work “to bring his digital human face and persona to life in a very human-like way.”
To date Soul Machines’ technology has been used mainly to give a ‘human’ face to customer service chatbots. Early users include CAD software company Autodesk, European car maker Daimler, the ANZ Bank, and UK bank Natwest.
The company is a spinout from the University of Auckland launched in late 2016 with backing of US$7.5 million in its initial financing round from Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures.
Soul Machines’ chief business officer, Greg Cross, said education would be one of the breakthrough applications for Soul Machines’ technology.
“Digital teachers have the potential to democratise the delivery of education to students everywhere, particularly those in remote communities, and help address the growing teacher shortages on a global scale.”
Cross described Will as “one of the world’s first digital teachers,” and said its creation had been one of the company’s most exciting assignments. “The opportunity to see digital interactions with children in the classroom has been a fantastic part of this project.”
Vector’s chief digital officer Nikhil Ravishankar said new and emerging technologies like that from Soul Machines would allow Vector to have better conversations with its customers – including its future generation.
“Using a digital human is a very compelling method to deliver new information to people, and I have a lot of hope in this technology as a means to deliver cost-effective, rich, educational experiences into the future.”