A conversation with Animatico co-founder, Christian Schüller.
Christian, how did you get the idea for launching a software start-up with talking avatars?
During my studies in Computer Sciences and subsequent doctorate at ETH Zurich, Pascal Bérard, Riccardo Roveri, and I worked intensively on technologies in the field of computer graphics and computer-aided learning. Initially, technical motivations were the primary focus – bringing digital beings to life and making them tangible for everyone. Thanks to our previous work at ETH and at Disney Research, we knew the potential these beings had in animated films. In everyday life, we increasingly find ourselves in situations in which we see the customer experience – on, for example, a complicated ticket machine – as frustrating. So we thought, “That can be done better”. This gave rise to the idea of avatars as user interfaces for digital devices that people can also speak to and interact with on an emotional level.
What are the advantages of avatars? In which areas can the software be used?
Interacting with the avatar is very easy; it feels natural and trusting. There’s a lot of development behind this. Through voice, gestures, emotions, and visual representations, the avatars support and guide users step by step through a specific concern. In this way, avatars enable simplified and completely intuitive device operation in the area of customer service, such as ticket-buying, hotel check-in, or advising on products. For example, if a person is kindly asked by a concierge avatar in a hotel uniform if they need a taxi or need help booking a restaurant, people can use language to find what they’re looking for faster than with buttons or a virtual keyboard. Basically, the system can either operate completely without having to touch a screen, but also offers the classic touch operation for support.