4. May 2023

PTA IT-Beratung receives research funding on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Mannheim-based PTA IT-Beratung has received a research grant on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Pursuant to Section 6 of the German Research Allowance Act (FZulG), the Research Allowance Certification Office (BSFZ) has approved funding for a research and development (R&D) project. The primary goal of the project, entitled “Omnichannel Support by Avatar,” is to create a digital person who appears and acts as real and human as possible and who can engage in a dialog with a real person. The project also aims to enable this novel digital avatar to explain complex products or services instead of an instruction manual and to conduct a consultation from which legally binding contracts can be concluded.

Consistently pushing ahead with tried-and-tested solutions

“The promotion of this innovative development project shows that it pays off to use known and proven solutions and to consistently develop new things from them,” explains Dr. Frank Gredel, Head of Business Development at PTA IT-Beratung. “After all, the idea for which we have now successfully attracted research funding is based on our proprietary digital consulting assistant NEXOVI. We now want to develop this digital avatar further and thus ignite the next stage of evolution.” The funding project took shape at a meeting of the Mannheim-based Smart Production network, an innovation cluster for the digitization of production in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region that is unique in Germany and is both community-driven and strong in implementation.

Frank Gredel’s team exchanged ideas there with Prof. Dr. Markus Straub, founder of the Steinbeis Transfer Center INENGO based in Pfullendorf. The latter drew the attention of the PTA officers to the options for research funding in the Conversational AI environment. And so it was Prof. Straub who finally mediated and supported the successful application for research funds. “I found the project approach of using AI and Big Data to enable digital avatars to gain entirely new kinds of skills and help use modern technologies in a completely new way exciting and groundbreaking,” explains Prof. Dr. Markus Straub. “And I’m extremely pleased that research funding has been approved for this.”

From left to right: Mike Schmidt (Steinbeis Foundation for Business Development), Prof. Dr. Markus Straub (Steinbeis Foundation for Business Development), Kyril Hochweis (PTA), Dr. Frank Gredel (PTA)

Ignite evolutionary stage: Digital avatars become human and more dialog-oriented

The experts of the BSFZ of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research considered the objective that PTA wants to develop an avatar that resembles real people as much as possible worthy of support. The project will be retroactive from Jan. 2, 2020, through Dec. 31. 2026 funded. By then, the avatar should be able to recognize and respond to human emotions based on facial expressions and speech, as well as the manner of speaking. Currently, only chatbots, voice recognition systems, or controlled avatars exist that cannot detect the well-being of individuals. To implement the system, the PTA developers combine methods from the field of artificial intelligence and develop them further so that the dialog with the artificial counterpart feels like a conversation with a real person.

New deployment scenarios and DSGVO-compliant at the same time

This ambitious goal also results in completely new application possibilities, which an avatar equipped in this way would be able to master. For example, instead of an instruction manual, such a manual could also explain complex products or services such as banking and insurance contracts, from which legally effective contracts can be concluded. A human avatar could also conduct and guide dialog-oriented consulting sessions, for example in the area of support or service-intensive processes in the industrial environment. This is made possible by the developers using Deep Learning and Conversational AI to classify all dialogs. In this way, a dialog structure tree is created, which can predict the dialog path as well as the contents via probabilities. As a result, the new digital avatar can provide the user with completely individualized offers and assistance, and no two consulting sequences are the same. In addition, the research project meets all requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Dialog control is necessary for this. This means that the possible course of the conversation is composed of many predefined dialogs and is guided via the AI. Each dialog should be individually personalized.

“If we achieve the goals we have set, our new digital avatar will surpass all previously available and known solutions in the field of business applications by realistically depicting human behavior,” Dr. Frank Gredel is certain. “The solutions used in this area to date act sluggishly and sound very machine-like. The biggest challenge in our trend-setting R&D project is undoubtedly to create a visually as well as linguistically human dialog with an avatar that can replace a conversation with real people in many.”

Have we sparked your interest? Find out more about our digital consulting assistant NEXOVI or contact us directly:

Dr. Frank Gredel

Head of Business Development

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