The University of Newcastle, Australia

A catalyst for creating virtual memories

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The IT Innovation Team at UON featured on ABC’s Catalyst program capturing the story and memories of a real person using virtual reality.

Virtual reality

After a lengthy pitch and development process led by the UON Media Team, the new format program, which aired on 15 August, highlighted UON’s strengths in the use of emerging technologies, and featured Innovation Team Manager, Craig Williams and Lead Designer & 3D Content Developer, Gaute Rasmussen.

With the Media Team laying the groundwork for the concept with the national broadcaster, Craig and his team were able to collaborate in the development of the concept for the show.

"We were excited at the prospect of recording someone speaking about their life and memories, then displaying it in virtual reality, and using artificial intelligence to allow another person to interact with it," Craig said.

“Imagine being able to pass down oral histories through generations and being able to ask questions as if the individuals telling the story were actually there. Or for those suffering from degenerative memory diseases to be able to record their own memories, to potentially help with treatment, or to share them with their family and maybe even future generations,” he said.

“The end result was a realistic virtual environment, that feels like you are talking to a real person.”

The application allows people to have a natural conversation with the avatar, using artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition and natural language.

“The method we used was fast, scalable and very cost effective. All up, four members of our team put this together in just a few weeks using mostly standard equipment,” he said.

“We worked with the director and researchers to scope out a concept that we could achieve in their budget and tight timeframe.”

The IT Innovation Team has been involved in a number of VR and AI projects for teaching and learning applications at UON previously, but nothing as large scale as for a television show.

“The work that our Innovation Team has done here opens up some really exciting doors in storytelling and communication, using a combination of video, artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies. We've been capturing memories for a long time; from telling stories, to writing, to creating videos - but for the first time, we're able to interact with these memories in a meaningful way,” Craig said.

The IT Innovation Team, within IT Services, is a small group of technology innovation specialists who work on bringing new and exciting technology to UON.

If you have a problem you think could be resolved using new technology, or to discuss a project you have in mind, email it-innovationteam@newcastle.edu.au.


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