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More Rea Pictures:

    Rea Greeting Screen Shot

    Rea Introducing Condo
    Screen Shot

    Rea In the Livingroom
    Screen Shot

    Rea Interaction 1

    Rea Interaction 2

    Rea Interaction 3

    Rea Interaction 4

    Rea Interaction 5

    Rea Interaction 6

    Rea Interaction 7

    Rea Interaction 8

    Rea Interaction 9

    Rea Interaction 10

    Rea Interaction 11

    Rea Interaction 12

    Rea Interaction 13

    Rea Internal

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We are developing autonomous agents that are capable of having a real-time face-to-face conversation with a human. These agents are human in form and communicate using both verbal and non-verbal modalities. We believe that such agents provide a new form of human-computer interface which users can interact with naturally, without training, since they already know how to engage in face-to-face conversation with other people. In addition to providing a platform for evaluating theories of human communicative behavior, these agents can be used in applications from virtual salespeople and support personnel to virtual playmates for children. 

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Our first generation humanoid system was Animated Conversation, where two autonomous humanoid animated characters carried on a conversation. While there was no human participant in these dialogues, Animated Conversation was the first system to automatically generate verbal and non-verbal communicative behaviors such as hand gestures, facial displays, intonation and speech. 
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Our second generation humanoid was Gandalf, an animated cartoon face on a screen that could answer spoken questions about the solar system. Gandalf could sense the user's motion by having the user wear an electro-magnetic tracking system, and thus could respond to non-verbal behavior as well as verbal behavior. Although Gandalf operated in real-time, his outputs were simply selected from a library of stock responses. 
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The next generation has a fully articulated body and senses the user passively through cameras. The agent, named Rea (for Real Estate Agent), plays the role of a real estate salesperson who interacts with users to determine their needs, shows them around virtual properties, and attempts to sell them a house. We selected real estate sales as our application area, since there are opportunities for both task-oriented and socially-oriented conversation. As opposed to Gandalf, Rea actually synthesizes her responses--including speech and accompanying hand gestures--based on a grammar and lexicon and communicative context. 
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Creating a synthetic human is a large undertaking that introduces a wide range of hard research issues. Current research directions we are pursuing include the recognition of classes of user conversational hand gestures, the synthesis of Rea's hand gestures based on a more detailed understanding of pragmatic information, and the planning of mixed-initiative dialog including non-task-oriented 'small talk' and conversational storytelling. The research version of Rea runs on a collection of five SGIs and PCs. A German version of Rea has also been developed and we are currently working on a PC-based application of the technology in which the agent plays the role of a child's virtual playmate.