Digital human 'MAI' opens new MindLabs building

Digital human 'MAI' opens new MindLabs building

09/29/2023 - 10:19

On Wednesday, 27 September, MindLabs proudly opened its doors to a brand-new building. MindLabs is a partnership involving three educational institutions, government entities, and a growing network of businesses, social organisations, and startups.
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About MindLabs 

MindLabs partners work together to advance technologies that interact with human behaviour, known as human-centred AI. Their aim is to tackle important societal issues using these unique technologies.  

Founded on April 1, 2019, by Fontys University of Applied Sciences, ROC Tilburg, Tilburg University, the Province of Noord-Brabant, the municipality of Tilburg, and DPG Media, MindLabs is situated at the heart of Tilburg's Spoorzone, right next to the central train station and LocHal.  

Digital human created by BUas and partners 

The new building was officially opened by MAI, a digital avatar created especially for MindLabs. MAI (MindLabs Artificial Intelligence) is a project developed by Breda University of Applied Sciences, and partners, with further development plans in the pipeline. To follow MAI's progress, you can check out her Instagram account, @MAI_MindLabs 

The opening of MindLabs' new building demonstrates the power of collaboration and innovation in advancing human-centred AI technology. As MAI embarks on her journey, she symbolizes the endless possibilities that await MindLabs and its partners in addressing society's challenges through cutting-edge technology. 

The making of a digital human 

Alexander van Buggenum, a 3D Artist at BUas' Cradle Research and Development Lab, shares insights into the expanding realm of digital realities. He explains, ‘We've been exploring the possibilities and potential of digital humans, which could be a valuable addition in practical applications. For that reason, MindLabs chose a digital human for their grand building opening.' 

Alexander emphasizes the realistic quality of MAI, stating, 'Even though MAI is virtual, she moves, laughs, and speaks with uncanny realism, thanks to Epic Games' MetaHuman technology. We put a lot of effort into creating her performance and appearance, and making her as unique as possible.' 

To make MAI move realistically, Alexander emphasized on their collaboration with BUas' mocap team, with whom they used the Vicon system for motion capture. He adds, 'It was a successful collaboration between our research department and dedicated games students who manage the mocap team.' 

Regarding MAI's voice, Alexander mentions, 'We aimed for authenticity, so we enlisted the help of Josien van Balen, a colleague from the Academy for Games and Media, to provide her voice. Synchronizing her voice performance with the 3D character's face was crucial. This synchronization was achieved by colleague Jens Hagen, who utilized NVIDIA's Audio2Face technology. Jens was also responsible for most of the audio work throughout the video. In addition to this, we manually incorporated subtle facial expressions to enhance her believability.' 

'MAI can walk, talk, and express herself, but bringing it all together required Unreal Engine,' Alexander explains. 'Unreal Engine seamlessly integrates environments, animations, sound, and visual effects. It allows us to create a captivating cinematic experience, showcasing the incredible capabilities of digital humans and the world of digital realities.' 

Alexander worked together on this project with Niek van Apeldoorn, who served as the project manager, as well as Joey Relouw and other members from BUas' R&D Lab Cradle. This collaboration spanned across our different academies, as our colleague Frank Ouwens from Leisure & Events was also involved as a freelance creative, collaborating on the development of the event concept alongside experts from Fijnevent in Raamsdonkveer and Jan-Hein Sloesen, among others, who is the executive director of theater De Kring in Roosendaal.