Guest post by WebSpeaking’s Michael de Louwere.
In April 2014, we were asked to participate in a contest for the Top 100 innovation SME companies. In Dutch, it’s called the “innovatieTop100.”
This competition was launched a few years ago by the Dutch Chamber of Commerce and the NRC, a quality newspaper. The Netherlands has a reputation for being innovative, hence this competition. I can imagine you thinking: “Really?” Yes, really, don’t believe me by just looking into my blue eyes, which are brown by the way.
Let me just give you a few examples of some Dutch innovations: microscope, telescope, CD, DVD, LED, ASML (who builds machines that built chip making machines for Intel and others), and we do awesome in water containment constructions, Bluetooth and Maslow’s newest add on: WiFi, but I’m getting really vainglorious here.
So I entered the competition with our latest innovation – CodeBaby avatars and a tablet that support the elderly population, including those with a touch of Alzheimers.
Now, why would I use this talking “puppet” on a tablet? Quite simply, these characters, aka virtual agents, intelligent virtual assistants, or avatars, will act as a virtual buddy (coach, guide, teacher, nurse, etc). It works perfectly. If you find this difficult to believe, consider this, do you talk to pets? Teddybears? Cars maybe? Do you laugh when Jerry hits Tom with a frying pan? Perhaps you wept when Bambi’s mother got shot?
You wouldn’t have these emotions if you didn’t see these cartoon figures as actual persons. This has to do with automatic social behavior, automatic interaction mechanisms, mirror neurons in your brain, and so on.
Scientifically, it’s proven that you actually make an emotional connection with these virtual agents. This gives you space to maneuver. The percentage of information you can get inside the brain of the person is higher than with single text or audio. Social behavioral rules give people more motivation to complete tasks or assignments, as well as prevent them from blocking or breaking up the conversation.
Now then, what would this application do for the elderly? Let’s say the user has lost her key. A structured search pattern is not going to happen. But if this button (see image) was available, then the CodeBaby virtual assistant could guide her through the room, helping her to search for the key.
And there are other options, as well. The virtual assistant can show her the latest pictures of her children, provide her with names, tell her what time the Bridge game starts, what to eat, how to cook, and so on.
What would be the benefit of such an app? We predict:
- Less calls to the nurse and nearest family.
- Improvement in daily life, since there’s always someone there for them.
- Feeling more self-supported by a technology that’s actually very personal and warm. We know these virtual characters work well and have a good effect on the elderly (Aibo, Paro).
- Improved health by advising them what to eat, when to go places, and which exercises to perform.
Here’s a good example:
In the second week of May, the complete alphabetized list of the top 100 most innovative SME companies was publicized, and to my surprise, we were on it. At first I was content and didn’t give it much thought, but when people started congratulating me, I gave it a bit more attention and then investigated who was responsible developing the list. I found a pretty impressive group comprised of the institute, newspaper, and jurors. But what really blew my socks off was when I saw who my competition was. That impressed me greatly, and I was honored to be among them.
On June 11th, the Top100 event took place in Utrecht at Mercedes-Benz headquarters.
Hoping that they would service my old Mercedes for free, I entered the building, received my badge, got my picture taken with my own mobile, and headed straight for the bar to get some coffee. As most people know, the bigger the event, the worse the coffee gets. This event was too big to get a refill :-s (a smiley is kind of an avatar).
The show began with a speech by the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, who happened to be my former boss in a former company. The rest of the event was hosted by one of the more popular stand-up comedians here, Dolf Janssen. He’s impossible to understand if you’re not a native speaker, and even for us its tough to keep up with him. I’m convinced he starts the day with 5 double espressos, two bottles of Coke, and a truckload of Red Bull to calm himself down and cope with his ADHD.
They counted down by 10. We finished at 69. I was thrilled!
The fun part of this competition was that all types of companies participated. The top three consisted of a new drive-in-wheel-motion system, a shrimp peeling machine, and a way to keep boat hulls clean, which could save up to 40% on fuel!
After a networking drink, I headed straight for another event about the Oculus Rift. Not sure yet how we’re going to combine that with our CodeBaby avatars, but something will pop into my mind one of these days.
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