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The Telebuddy - an Avatar as Medium for Internet Chats

05.07.2000 - (idw) Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphische Datenverarbeitung IGD

The Telebuddy - an Avatar as Medium for Internet Chats

To slip into the body of another person, see the world through his eyes or even speak with his voice... this is the material the dreams of "Being John Malkovich" film actors are made of. A movie which fascinated millions of cinemagoers worldwide. To give people the feeling of being present in distant places - this idea is also followed by an interdisciplinary research team at the Computer Graphics Center in Darmstadt (ZGDV). Researchers from the Rostock Fraunhofer IGD have also joined the project. The creative team developed a so-called "Telebuddy", a mobile companion for people on their way through cities, the countryside, fairs or exhibitions. The Telebuddy is a medium which lends its eyes, ears and voice to its carrier and other people. It is shouldered like a backpack, watches the world from over the shoulder and communicates with its carrier, passers-by and speaking acquaintances. Thus, dialogue via the Internet reaches entirely new dimensions.

The prototype of this physical avatar looks like a cross-bred teddy bear and puppet animation, but his inner life is full of high-technology. "In this project, we have merged different technology approaches for a completely new, innovative application," says Norbert Gerfelder, head of the "Mobile Information Visualization" department at the ZGDV. "In the Telebuddy, mobile webcams and interactive video technologies are combined with technologies of augmented reality and Internet communication. An artificial body as medium allows people to join events live and actively influence events and pose their questions - and all this from wherever they choose." The project, sponsored by the Ministry for Science and Education (BMB+F), was realized by the team in no more than seven months.
The Telebuddy will be presented to the public for the first time at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover from 11th to 13th July. It will be shown during the "Global Dialogue" on "Science and Technology - Thinking the Future". Thereafter, the avatars will "tour" several German research institutes to let Net users visit exhibitions and laboratories via live-broadcasting. At the same time, anyone interested can immerse themselves in the EXPO world in Hanover via the Internet with the aid of the avatar's senses. In a chatroom, all Internet members come to an agreement on the exhibits that are to be visited by the Telebuddy at the EXPO's "Go Basic" exhibition.
"To offer people new forms of global dialogue, enabling them to communicate and inform themselves in an enjoyable and inspiring way," are the major goals of the Telebuddy project for Ulrike Spierling. She is head of the "Digital Storytelling" depart-ment at the ZGDV and sees the physical and visual presence of the avatar as the crucial component. "In contrast to telecommunication via mobile phone or palmtop, here, technology is made invisible. The avatar puppet becomes a real companion of the carrier and encourages passers-by to communicate." The Telebuddy figures as a multiple personality: For persons who meet in an Internet-chat-forum, it is the key figure and medium to expand their virtual chat into real-world communities. Dr. Thomas Kirste from the Fraunhofer IGD in Rostock lent the Telebuddy personality a "collective consciousness" - which is established by a specific voting method. Kirste is head of the "Mobile Multimedia Technologies" department and one of the creators of the Telebuddy - along with Norbert Gerfelder and Ulrike Spierling.
Experience the Telebuddy live and communicate through it via the World Wide Web at: "http://www.telebuddy.de"

EXPO 2000: Thinking the Future
Information and communications technologies increasingly influence the education, jobs and leisure of our society. Consequently, they are included in the four leading topics of the global dialogue "Science and Technology - Thinking the Future" which takes place at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover. From 11th to 13th July, internationally renowned experts will discuss research and science topics of the future here.

On 12th July, led by Prof. José L. Encarnação, Director of INI-GraphicsNet, experts will present the latest technological applications for the economy and consumers. Prof. José L. Encarnação is convinced that "there is a trend towards human-centered technology that can be used conveniently and interactively by everyone. The systems will be barely perceptible or visible, they will become part of the clothes or interior. The appliances will adapt to the human dialogue partner's characteristics - such as their voice, gestures and emotions." The so-called X-reality, based on a merger of mobile computing and ubiquitous computing is in its early stages. "Still, the fast-track extensive development leads me to anticipate that its use will penetrate many areas of our life," explains Prof. Encarnação. The rapid development of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) shows how quickly innovative technological solutions are taken up by the economy. Virtual reality has already conquered a vast number of industrial sectors such as automobile development. AR or augmented reality is nowadays used in its early stages in the field of assembly and will sustainably change airplane assembly, surgery and other complex work fields in the near future.
The unique, three day research forum will close with a panel discussion. Moderated by Sabine Christiansen, Margarita de Botero, José L. Encarnação, Eckard Minx and Katarzyna Stoklosa will consider visions of the future with the guests. The members of this "Platform for the Future" will examine basic questions such as how to deal with each other, with earth's natural resources and the environment. Do research and technology explore all the possibilities or only those necessary? Will we meet future challenges? Do researchers use nature's laws alone or do they take nature as a model? These and more essential questions promise a lively discussion which will be one of the highlights of the "Global Dialogue - Science and Technology".
For further information, please visit: "http://www.GermanScience.de"

The international network of Computer Graphics (INI-GraphicsNet) consists of the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics (IGD), the Computer Graphics Center (ZGDV), both situated in Darmstadt and Rostock and the Darmstadt University of Technology Department of Computer Science Interactive Graphics Systems Group (GRIS). The network comprises of further institutions such as the Fraunhofer Application Center for Computer Graphics in Chemistry and Pharmaceutics (AGC) situated in Frankfurt, the Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics (CRCG) in Providence, Rhode Island, the Fraunhofer Centre for Advanced Media Technology (CAMTech), Singapore and the Centro de Computação Gráfica (CCG) in Coimbra, Portugal.

It employs a staff of over 300 and more than 450 assistant researchers at six locations. With a budget of 70 million DM it is the major research alliance in the field of computer graphics world-wide.

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