Scots Behind Lara Croft’s Smile Are Creating Emotional Virtual Assistants

Lara Croft

After a £2 million pound investment, a University of Edinburgh spin-out plans to target the US ‘intelligent virtual assistant’ market. 

After a £2 million pound investment from Archangels, Par Equity and the Scottish Investment Bank, Edinburgh-based tech firm Speech Graphics has set its sights firmly on targeting the US’s intelligent virtual assistant market.

With the fresh cash injection the company plans to extend its presence into the US virtual assistant market, which is predicted to grow from £538 million to £8.8 billion by 2024.

Virtual assistants are becoming increasingly mainstream as businesses have started to use them across many of their websites and portals to answer customers’ questions.

Seeing the potential in this area, Speech Graphics plans to build a software platform to allow developers from other businesses to create “emotionally responsive” digital avatars to interact with customers.

Customers Expect Service With a Smile

The firm’s technology has the potential to improve user experience when interacting with virtual helpers. Currently, they lack an emotional connection, something that is deficient in existing artificial intelligence platforms. Therefore, introducing emotionally responsive animation has the potential to improve both UX and customer service.

Dr Gregor Hofer, co-founder and chief executive of Speech Graphics, said: “The consumer expects round the clock customer service. Intelligent virtual assistants may seem like the answer but we also expect service with a smile.”

Michael Berger, Hofer’s fellow co-founder, said: “Speech is not just about lip sync, it’s also about energy and emotion in the voice that need to come across perfectly in the face.”

The company, which specialises in making digital facial animation more realistic, is responsible for animating tomb-raiding heroine Lara Croft’s facial expressions in the latest instalment of the series, Show of the Tomb Raider.

Speech Graphic’s lip-synch and facial animation technology has previously been used by other entertainment heavy-weights such as Kanye West, Warner Brothers, Microsoft, Def Jam and Sony. It was also used in the wildly popular game Call of Duty.

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