VIBE has been working on the development of virtual humans or ‘avatars’ to be used in healthcare settings. Carlos Santos, researcher at BUas, gives us an inside look.
Virtual humans or ‘avatars’ are conversational – let’s say – agents that operate in virtual reality environments and communicate with their non-virtual human users through speech, facial expressions and movement. In project VIBE colleagues have been working on the development of these ‘avatars’ to be used in healthcare settings.
Photorealistic virtual agents
‘It’s quite a challenge,’ Carlos Santos – researcher at BUas – says, ‘as the agents should look like a human, with the appropriate eye gaze and facial expressions.’
But why is that? Surely people are already used to being spoken to by computers?
‘True, but it really makes sense to deploy photorealistic virtual agents,’ Carlos explains. ‘With look-a-likes, you trigger the same perceptual and cognitive processes that are expected to take place when looking at a real person's face. And that can help create a trusting relationship between humans and virtual agents. Such a trusted agent is desirable in healthcare and education, for example.’
‘But it is not just about making the agent look like a real person,’ Carlos adds. ‘The avatar must also be able to communicate with people without knowing in advance what the user will be saying. Artificial Intelligence helps us creating natural communication. And that is what we have been working on in the VIBE project.’
VIBE stands for Virtual Humans in the Brabant Economy. Initiator is Max Louwerse, Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Artificial Intelligence at Tilburg University. In his view, knowledge in the field of virtual reality is spread too thinly across different knowledge institutes, companies and organisations. Project VIBE, in which a lot of partners have been working closely together, is a stimulus to pool knowledge and develop it further.
In the last few years BUas has been participating in project VIBE, together with a lot of experienced partners, such as Tilburg University, Fontys, ROC Tilburg’s School for Care and Wellbeing, Máxima Medisch Centrum Eindhoven, and Spaarne Gasthuis. ‘The VIBE agent we have been developing, will be applied in healthcare settings, including training healthcare practitioners and supporting patient communication,’ Carlos concludes.
The two hospitals not only provided medical expertise, but also act as 'living labs'. Living health labs are set in which the interactive avatars can help improve training for staff and provide information to patients.
See and read the story behind our avatars here. If you would like to find out more about this project, please contact Carlos Santos via email@example.com