Cyber avatars for a new era

SOTA avatar

The first tests at the UPC will be conducted using the SOTA avatar.

From left to right: researchers Norihiro Hagita, from the Moonshot programme; Alberto Sanfeliu, from the IRI; and Hiroshi Ishiguro, from Osaka University

From left to right: researchers Norihiro Hagita, from the Moonshot programme; Alberto Sanfeliu, from the IRI; and Hiroshi Ishiguro, from Osaka University

Barcelona, a testing ground for the avatar-symbiotic society

The city of Barcelona—and specifically the UPC—has been chosen by the promoters of the Avatar Symbiotic Society as a testing ground to analyse the interaction between avatars and individuals in a context different from Japan. With this project, to be conducted on the UPC’s South Diagonal Campus, the researchers aim to analyse the interaction between this type of android and people. The data will be compared with that obtained in Japan, where avatars are being tested in shopping centres and will soon extend to schools, hospitals and other settings.

International scientific summit of the Avatar Symbiotic Society
To move forward in building this future society, the Avatar Symbiotic Society organised the 1st Japan-Spain Symposium, held at the UPC’s School of Mathematics and Statistics on 3 November.

The event brought together a hundred international researchers to explore the technical feasibility of the avatar-symbiotic society and analyse the ethical and legal implications of this new scenario. In addition to the project’s driving force, Hiroshi Ishiguro, and IRI researcher Alberto Sanfeliu, the event also featured speeches by other Japanese researchers developing the project, promoted by the Japan Science and Technology Agency. 

The UPC takes part in the Avatar Symbiotic Society, an initiative by the Japanese government to drive the creation of a society in which teleoperated avatars and cyborgs can stand in for individuals in various areas of life. Researcher Alberto Sanfeliu, from the Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics (IRI), is the only international member in a team of Japanese researchers led by professor Hiroshi Ishiguro.

Dec 21, 2023

Is a society possible in which individuals are free from the limitations of the human brain, the material body and even space and time? Not only is it possible, but experts predict this new era will emerge by 2050. And it will be possible through the creation of cyber avatars that will expand human abilities of a sensory, physical and even cognitive nature.

This is the aim of the Avatar Symbiotic Society, a project funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, as part of the Moonshot research and development programme, which is envisioned as a solution to the declining birth rates, an aging population and labour shortages. 

The idea is to make a society in which anyone, regardless of their physical, cognitive or sensory limitations, can play an active social role without constraints. To achieve this, researchers are working to develop avatars and cyborgs that, either teleoperated by the user or acting autonomously, will entirely act and react as and have the will of the individual in any scenario and social activity. The cybernetic avatar could thus replace the individual in their daily activities, whether at work, in class, at the doctor’s surgery or in everyday errands. 

The project involves 40 scientists divided in 8 working groups focused on developing different areas. The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC) is participating through professor Alberto Sanfeliu, from the Department of Automatic Control, who is also a researcher at the Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics (IRI)—a joint centre of the UPC and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). He is the only international member in this team of Japanese researchers. Sanfeliu is specifically developing a new social cooperative model (perception-intention-action) for the new cyber avatars.

From science fiction to real life
The Avatar Symbiotic Society is the brainchild of engineer Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at the Department of Systems Innovation in the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University and director of the University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory.

He is considered one of today’s top hundred geniuses in the world for his research in robotics and the development of numerous humanoids and androids. He is renowned for developing geminoids, androids resembling actual people, like himself and others, such as Japan’s minister of Digital Transformation Taro Kono. 

With the Avatar Symbiotic Society, Ishiguro takes a new step towards achieving a future society in which robots and humans coexist in harmony. By 2050, these technological advances are expected to change our lifestyle, giving us more freedom in choosing our physical location at any given moment and the activities to which we devote our time.