Hauser, AVATRINA Team Earn Finalist Position in $10 Million ANA Avatar XPRIZE Competition

10/21/2021 2:25:28 PM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

For more than three years, a team of graduate students led by Illinois CS professor Kris Hauser has progressed through the $10M ANA Avatar XPRIZE. Starting among nearly 80 teams from all around the world, the AVATRINA team worked to showcase their Tele-Robotic Intelligent Nursing Assistant (TRINA) as a platform for deploying human presence to a remote location.

Kris Hauser
Kris Hauser

Today, they found out that their work continues on, as AVATRINA earned placement in the Avatar XPRIZE finals after competing alongside 36 other semifinalist teams.

TRINA is a robotic avatar that allows the operator to see, hear, navigate and interact with a remote environment. Its development showcases the team’s dedicated effort in robotics and VR/AR research.

“We’re in the Zoom era today, and telerobotics will be the telecommuting of tomorrow. It’s thrilling to be involved in shaping the future of this technology and the team is very excited for TRINA to compete at the finals,” said Hauser.

Hauser's work on this project started before the XPRIZE began, as NSF-supported research between collaborators at Illinois CS and Duke University in 2018. His team has grown to include an augmented reality gaming startup company called VRotors, which develops enterprise cloud platforms for robotics and immersive VR/AR technology.

The TRINA system is a mobile manipulator robot with two arms, grippers, and a moving base, and is controlled by a remote operator using a commodity VR system. TRINA approximates human height and incorporates advanced control techniques so that it can gently shake a person’s hand and collide with objects, but strong enough to lift 10lbs per hand.

The robot has audio and video connection so that operators and observers on the robot’s side can communicate. It also has a head with cameras which tracks the operator’s head movements, which lets the operator see what the robot sees, and a tablet screen to display the operator’s face. One challenge addressed by the team in the video display is that the operator wears VR goggles, which obscures the upper half of their face. So, the team created a “deep fake” algorithm that captures video of the lower part of the operator’s face and recognizes mouth movements to render a full face video in real-time.

The AVATRINA robotics team at the XPRIZE semifinals
In September, the AVATRINA team traveled to Miami and took place in the ANA Avatar XPRIZE semifinals.

For the finals, Hauser hopes to incorporate more realistic haptic feedback to improve the operator’s fine manipulation capabilities, and to incorporate larger batteries to let TRINA operate untethered. He also hopes to implement AI-driven operator assistance techniques that will help the user avoid collisions, navigate long distances, and grasp objects more easily than with direct control.

Neil Malhotra, founder of VRotors, emphasized the AVATRINA team’s ability to innovate.

“It's been a privilege to work with Dr. Hauser's UIUC student robotics team, which developed one of the world's most capable human avatar robots through thoughtful innovation and incredible dedication, leading to this exciting competition result,” Malhotra said.

The Avatar XPRIZE is a four year global competition focused on the development of an avatar system that will deploy a human’s senses, actions, and presence to a remote location in real time, leading to a more connected world. In the future, avatars could help provide critical care and deploy immediate responses in emergency situations or offer opportunities for exploration and new ways of collaboration, stretching the boundaries of what is possible and maximizing the impact of skill and knowledge sharing.

These avatars must demonstrate the ability to execute tasks across a variety of real-world scenarios and convey a sense of presence for both the operator and the recipient in those interactions.

“The possibility of living in a world where individuals can provide aid during a crisis in a different country without ever leaving the comfort of their homes is closer than ever,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE. “While it's been difficult this year to predict what the future will bring for the evolving health landscape, these avatar solutions will solve real world problems and can bring people together in more ways than ever before. We’re looking forward to supporting these incredible finalist teams competing in the ANA Avatar XPRIZE and their technology into the future.”

The 15 finalist teams will equally share a milestone prize purse of $2 million and move on to finals testing in Fall 2022.

Finalists will compete to win a share of the $8 million finals prize purse, with the grand prize winners receiving $5M, second and third place getting $2 million and $1 million.

The grand, second and third place prizes will be awarded in Fall 2022 after finals testing is completed. Performance tests will be evaluated based on specific tasks that showcase the application of the avatar technologies across several use case scenarios.

The winning team will integrate multiple emerging technologies to develop a physical, nonautonomous avatar system which its operator can see, hear and interact within a remote environment in a manner that feels as if they are truly there.

About XPRIZE
XPRIZE is a global future-positive movement of over 1M people and rising, delivering truly radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. XPRIZE inspires and empowers a global community of problem-solvers to positively impact our world by crowdsourcing solutions through large-scale competitions, tackling the world’s grandest challenges in exploration, environment and human equity. Active competitions include the $100 Million XPRIZE Carbon Removal with Elon Musk, $15 Million XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion, $10 Million XPRIZE Rainforest, $10 Million ANA Avatar XPRIZE, $5 Million XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling and $1 Million Digital Learning Challenge. Donate, sign up or join a team at xprize.org.