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Innovation: Digital Avatars
Sophie is compassionate and empathetic; she is smart; and she has a sense of humor.
She is much like any other person, only she is not a person.
Sophie is an avatar created by Mequon-based Intelligent Digital Avatars Inc., better known as iDAvatars.
The avatars’ function is to observe, perform assessments and record interactions in personal health records, but founder and chief executive officer Norrie Daroga wants the avatars to be more than that.
“(Sophie is) the character we created, and we can build any number of different avatars with different characteristics, but Sophie is ours,” Daroga said. “She has the characteristics we wanted her to have, which is, number one, she gets to know you rather than you have to get to know her.”
For instance, Sophie identifies personality types by picking up on the user’s emotions and mood and then responds appropriately.
“So her ability to listen to you is important, and we focus on both verbal and non-verbal characteristics,” Daroga said. “Her purpose is to help you achieve what you want, so sometimes it may be to answer questions and other times it may just be a shoulder to cry on.”
Sophie was released in March, and so far she is being rolled out by large companies for specific uses. Bayer HealthCare in Germany, for example, is using the avatar for pain management.
An “Ask Sophie” app is currently available as well in the App Store and on Google Play.
“But our big dream is that every person will be able to have their own Sophie one day,” Daroga said.
He also plans for Sophie to be applied to uses beyond health care in the future. She could be used for education and entertainment, and she could even tell you what to buy from the grocery store, he said.
Apple’s Siri may be able to perform some of these same functions, but Daroga said it’s not to the extent that Sophie does.
“What Siri does is she tries to be everything to everybody,” he said. “Sophie’s job is to understand the narrow question you’re interested in. The engagement you have with Siri is nowhere close to the engagement you have with Sophie. Having a face and a visual appearance makes a big difference between a voice recognition system and something that understands you. Siri doesn’t pick up your emotions.”
Established two years ago by Daroga, iDAvatars has 12 employees. Seven are in Mequon, with the remainder in Los Angeles, Orlando, Portugal and India.
In addition to Bayer HealthCare, the growing startup company has partnerships with such organizations as Kaiser Permanente, Intel RealSense and IBM. In fact, iDAvatars in September was named one of the first 100 IBM Watson ecosystem partners to introduce its product to market.
iDAvatars also won a Wisconsin Innovation Award this summer, and it was recently awarded an $800,000 subcontract to lead the interactive avatar design for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
iDAvatars will be used in the VA’s Virtual Medical Center for patients with diabetes, PTSD and other conditions that require long-term management and access to educational content.