New Avatars Could Upgrade Your Image in the Metaverse

VR gets personal

Key Takeaways

  • Avatars, virtual representations of users, are set to get more realistic as NVIDIA releases new software tools. 
  • The new software will allow the creation of AI assistants that are easily customizable for virtually any industry. 
  • You’ll soon be able to use realistic avatars in VR during work meetings.
A business team using virtual reality headsets in the office.
Gremlin / Getty Images.

Your avatar might soon get a lot more realistic.

NVIDIA has released a set of tools for software developers aimed at helping them create better virtual representations of users and virtual characters. The avatars created in the platform are interactive characters with 3D graphics that can see, speak, converse on a wide range of subjects, and understand what you say. It's part of a growing interest in making virtual reality (VR) a more effective way to communicate.

"Better avatars may help people more easily recognize friends and family in virtual settings, and enable more "realistic" experiences—i.e., something that is closer to the real-time analog world," virtual reality expert and IEEE member Todd Richmond told Lifewire in an email interview. "In addition, training or educational applications that require higher fidelity representations of people will benefit from better avatars."

Avatars ‘R Us

NVIDIA says its new tool will allow the creation of AI assistants that are easily customizable for virtually any industry. The assistants could help with things like restaurant orders, banking transactions, and making personal appointments and reservations. 

"The dawn of intelligent virtual assistants has arrived," Jensen Huang, the CEO of NVIDIA, said in a news release. "Omniverse Avatar combines NVIDIA's foundational graphics, simulation, and AI technologies to make some of the most complex real-time applications ever created. The use cases of collaborative robots and virtual assistants are incredible and far-reaching."

Avatars are already proving their worth, Ashley Crowder, the  CEO of augmented reality company VNTANA told Lifewire. For example, the ICT (the Institute for Creative Technology) created some of the first AI agents for the military about ten years ago. ICT created AI counselors to help veterans with PTSD. Veterans were more comfortable speaking to the AI characters than human beings. 

The Shoah Foundation was also able to leverage avatar technology to preserve the stories of holocaust survivors, so years from now, people can still ask them questions about their experiences. 

"Virtual agents will also give users a more human interface for AI," Crowder said. "We have all been frustrated with chatbots and audio AI responses, but adding a human visual element to these AI interactions is proven to provide a better customer experience."

Future You?

You'll soon be able to use realistic avatars at work during VR meetings instead of having to log onto a Zoom call, Christoph Fleischmann, the founder of Arthur, a VR workspace that uses photorealistic avatars, told Lifewire. 

Future avatar versions will build upon advanced face- and eye-tracking by the underlying hardware to create completely life-like experiences, including micro-expressions like blinking or a quick smile, Fleischmann said. 

Someone using VR goggles and controls while looking at a large whiteboard.

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

"Photorealistic avatars will become the norm, and artificial intelligence will play a role in the creation of these realistic avatars, giving them real-life animation and mannerisms," he added. "We will soon start to see AI and machine learning generating user-specific facial expressions and customization like never before."

One use for avatars is as virtual agents or advanced chatbots that can simulate conversations with users. Among those using more advanced virtual agents are companies like Zendesk. Replika's chatbot, for example, is designed to look like a 3D person, Jon Firman, the co-founder of AI company Story Prism, told Lifewire. 

"Newer natural language processing models are enabling these virtual agents to become extremely advanced and able to answer more complicated questions," Firman said. "It will be interesting to see these more advanced chatbots as 3D models in the 'metaverse'—eventually you won't be able to distinguish between talking with a real person vs. a virtual agent."

Blending virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality will make avatars even more effective as an immersive experience for users, John V. Pavlik, a professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, told Lifewire. 

"On the flip side, 'better' avatars could make VR more addictive and drive up screen time even further," Pavlik said. "This could bring long-term negative social consequences and potentially adversely impact user mental health."

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