"Why don’t you try it on? You look like a rock star!". It is not your mother flattering you, rather a real avatar!
Millie is the first sales assistant with embedded AI technology to be developed by Twenty Billion Neurons, a Canadian start-up. Tested by the MIT Technology Review, the interface within a natural-scale kiosk interacts with people, observing and understanding their actions and the surrounding physical context. At first sight it is astonishing, yet the technology is not yet perfect: indeed, the avatar’s communication skills are still basic, making the experiment more humanlike.
The goal? To flatter customers by pushing them into buying the product, offering a new type of retail experience that promotes interaction with customers and their satisfaction. Thanks to a camera, the vision system recognises the surrounding environment, generating actions in response to the customer’s behaviour. For instance, it can prompt the customer to try on new clothes or suggest alternatives! Millie can identify the customer’s gaze to understand where s/he is looking, while voice recognition and natural language processing software enable it to understand and answer simple questions.
The avator’s vision capacity is calibrated on millions of human engagements of TwentyBN’s platform. Depending on the context, it can take on different personalities and forms: the sales assistant will be a friendly girl ready to help the customer and provide advice on any products of interest. Thanks to the new digital assistant, interactions with customers thus become an integral part of the automated shopping experience.
"Millie is just like a game character, but with the difference that it can see you and respond" says Roland Memisevic, CEO of TwentyBN. "It is a something new that attracts your attention, after which you really start to feel a connection with her."
The experience of an avatar as a sales assistant opens up a new scenario in the retail industry; quite certainly, this technology will never replace human salespeople completely: a half-way solution is that devised by retailers who are opting for "assistant” Apps with voice recognition: they can guide customers during their shopping experience, though only when deemed necessary.