South by Southwest

Fast-forwarding a robotic future: $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE is announced at SXSW

Source: XPrize

Imagine a world where home-based avatars help humans remotely multitask, transforming the world of work and travel. These devices would enable people to see, hear and touch and interact with physical environments and other people in distant locations. It might sound like a scene from James Cameron's well-known Avatar film, but the rapid rate of advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, VR and sensor technology will soon make this a viable commercial reality.

To fast-forward R&D and product development in this field, the XPrize Foundation is announcing a $10M ANA Avatar XPRIZE on Monday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. The four-year global competition is sponsored by Japan's All Nippon Airways, a company mapping future trends in the transportation industry.

"This prize can enable the creation of a technology that can efficiently distribute skills and hands-on expertise to distant locations around the world, wherever they are needed," said Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation. "It's a way to bridge the gap between distance, time and cultures."

In the early days, Diamandis envisions avatars will have limited applications. They will be used for disaster relief, especially in locations where people cannot tread. But eventually he foresees avatars performing a host of functions: helping the elderly, enabling virtual doctor visits and robotic home-appliance repair.

Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation
Source: Exponential Finance
Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation

"It's not about avatars replacing humans and their skills. It is about increasing the sphere of influence of humans across the planet," Diamandis said, while noting "the industry has great disruptive power." He added: "Over the next 20 years, it will grow into a multibillion-dollar market as more and more consumers use them. And they will entirely change the travel equation."

The winning team of the ANA Avatar XPRIZE will combine state-of-the-art technologies to demonstrate a robotic avatar that allows an untrained operator to complete a diverse series of tasks, from simple to complex, in a physical environment at least 100 kilometers away. Avatars must demonstrate the ability to execute tasks across a variety of real-world scenarios. In the future, avatar applications could help provide critical care and deploy immediate emergency response in natural disaster scenarios, stretching the boundaries of what is possible and maximizing the impact of skill and knowledge-sharing.

"It's not about avatars replacing humans and their skills. It is about increasing the sphere of influence of humans across the planet." -Dr. Peter Diamandis , executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation

The deadline for teams to register through the XPRIZE website is Oct. 31, 2018. Teams must submit a complete competition plan to an independent panel of expert judges by Jan. 31, 2019.
Two milestone competitions will take place in April 2020 and April 2021, respectively, during which all teams will compete for a $1 million prize purse each year. The $8 million grand prize will be awarded in October 2021. In a first for XPRIZE, any team that believes they have achieved the competition goals may call for the finals to be held early. The five-day finals will include performance tests based on specific tasks that showcase the application of avatar technologies.

ANA will not gain access to any intellectual property developed by the contenders or winning team.

The ANA Avatar XPRIZE originated in 2016 from XPRIZE's six-month concept incubator program, called Visioneers, led by scientist Harry Kloor Ph.D., where the ANA Visioneers team first proposed the avatar concept. This concept received top honors at the Visioneers Summit finale and was qualified as "ready for launch" by a group of 250 mentors, including prominent corporate and political leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, artists, technologists and scientists.