What does it take to judge something that’s never been done previously? How do you select experts in diverse fields that until now have rarely been merged together?
The ANA Avatar XPRIZE competition set out with the audacious task of recruiting judges with unique ranges of expertise and interests, whose enthusiasm could expand to include the many domains we anticipated would be united to create robotic Avatars of the future.
Of course there would be experts in robotics. But building a robot that a human could easily control to transport their senses, actions and presence to a distant location required rethinking robots from a very human perspective. This aspect propelled robotics competitions to a whole new realm, with unique engineering solutions to support quality human interactions.
We needed judges who understood both human psychology — how people think and behave — and who are experts in sensory domains, since the transportation of one’s presence would be enhanced with a wider palette of human perceptions.
We wanted to explore what senses should be included in the development of this new physical Avatar to help achieve this sense of presence. We expected that the operators of these future Avatars would see through the robot’s eyes (perhaps upgraded or augmented), hear through their auditory mechanisms (with true spatialized sound like our own ears provide) and feel through novel and newly developed haptics technologies to relay the many forms of touch. Maybe even smell could be conveyed through the Avatar from one location to another.
Given this set of topics, we searched the globe to find a judging panel that could rise to this future-oriented challenge. We searched for researchers and entrepreneurs, people that understood how virtual reality could be used to control a robotic Avatar, and people who loved to build and invent machines. And we required people who were very open to new ideas, techniques and willing to help promote the start of a radical new technology.
Our earliest set of judges had their work cut out for them. Not only did they need to explore what kinds of human-to-human connection could be facilitated by a robotic Avatar, they had to help define how such an Avatar could be scored when it was eventually brought to in-person testing. They helped develop the competition Guidelines as well as the Rules and Regulations that would govern the prize. They reviewed hundreds of hours of video and read dozens of submissions to select the most promising teams whose technologies would progress to the competition’s next steps.
Now, in year three of the ANA Avatar competition, we are entering an exciting next phase. Teams moving on to the Semifinals later this year will present their Avatar solutions to be physically tested by the Judges themselves. In this event, one Judge will serve as an Operator of the Avatar, and a second Judge will serve as a Recipient interacting with the Avatar in another room. This phase required us to recruit an expanded Judging Panel for the prize. We are proud to announce this slate of experts — 23 Judges in all! They reside in Japan, Europe, The UK, and of course from across the United States. They are cognitive scientists, neuroscience experts, haptics authorities, wearable sensor wizards, human-computer interaction researchers, robot builders, professors, entrepreneurs, and human communication professionals. Many wear several hats in these domains. Reading their biographies on our Judges page demonstrates the extent of the amazing brain trust that has come together to help make future robotic Avatars a reality. We are grateful to the incredible group of volunteers and encourage you to take some time to get to know them and their work. You will be hearing more from them over the coming months, as they share their thought leadership leading up to Semifinals testing in September 2021.