If you could suit up in a multi-sensory interface that let you control a robotic avatar somewhere else in the world, would you do it? Most of us would say, “in a heartbeat”. That’s the goal of the newest XPrize, funded by All Nippon Airways,  is an upcoming XPRIZE which will change the world by incentivizing the development of a system which will leverage human intellect through humanoid robotic avatars.


It’s the stuff of science fiction, to be able to insert one’s consciousness into a robotic surrogate body. Hundreds of visioneers voted to make this XPrize an official competition. The Avatar system has an enormous potential for mankind. You could use one of these to climb Mount Everest, explore the Titanic, or walk inside the crashed reactor at Chernobyl – perhaps all on the same day – without any risk to your physical body. You could walk the streets of Paris, Athens, New York and London, all in the same afternoon.

To get the technology to that point, however, is going to take a lot of dedicated scientists a fairly long time to solve all the problem needed to make a self-ambulatory robotic proxy that could be used in this way – to say nothing of the internet lag problem. At least three of the human senses could be integrated: sight, hearing, and touch Smell may be a possibility; taste is probably pointless, since an Avatar would never be able to eat, nor need to.

Here are the challenges that have been laid out by the ANA Avatar XPrize committee:

  • Iron Chef / Caretaker
  • Disaster Relief
  • Sports Avatar
  • Present and Mingle
  • Musican

avatar_conceptWe already have humanoid robots with some degree of autonomy that can do very simple tasks, like putting boxes on shelves or walking outside in natural environments unaided.  If a team can produce a single Avatar that can function in all these areas, they will have created a general purpose solution that can be used by anyone, anywhere, to do practically anything.

Starting in 2022, The Avatar Games will be broadcast annually, and we will see teams compete against one another to win the prizes for each phase in the Avatar development arc. A company called Endomol has already provided production development funds to make this happen, and has called dibs on the production rights.

For those who question whether this is even possible, ponder this: in 2004, the DARPA Self-Driving Vehicle challenge was just getting started, and today in 2016, Uber has deployed self-driving, street legal vehicles as part of their service in Pittsburgh, and Google has one roaming the streets of San Francisco updating Google Maps for the city. Human-driven robotic bodies are going to happen, and if self-driving cars can be solved in 12 years, we may see Avatars in every city by 2026, just ten years from now.

Watch this space.