Researchers and project partners pose with the Animated Virtual Agent.

Sheridan helping develop animated virtual agent for post-pandemic return

Jul 15, 2021
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Sheridan teams are pushing technological boundaries to help Toronto artificial intelligence company CloudConstable develop an animated virtual agent (AVA TM ) that can perform COVID-19 screening and interact with users without requiring the touch of a button. AVA’s ability to reduce human interaction in high-traffic areas could have a significant impact on post-pandemic operations in airports, long-term care and health care facilities, and more. 

The interdisciplinary applied research project leveraged technology and expertise of Sheridan’s Screen Industries Research and Training Centre (SIRT), the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies (CAMDT) and faculty and students from the Honours Bachelor of Craft and Design (Industrial Design) degree program. 

Research student interacts with animated virtual agent

CloudConstable first approached Sheridan last fall to seek SIRT’s assistance enhancing AVA’s screen presentation and thermal scanning features. The collaboration eventually grew to include CAMDT, which helped secure $38,000 in external funding from FedDev Ontario’s Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) and optimize AVA’s mechanical and electrical systems, and the Industrial Design program, which focused on ergonomics, practicality and durability during its creation of a prototype kiosk that will help commercialize the solution.

“Sheridan has brought so much to the equation, giving us access to everything from students who have been learning in the relevant field, to PhD researchers, to equipment,” says Mike Pickering, CloudConstable founder and CEO. “Having highly-qualified researchers and students working on this project provided us with a different perspective.”

“Sheridan’s growing research capabilities have allowed our research centres to become involved in more projects that cross multiple disciplines and collaborate with various faculties and programs,” says Dr. Carolyn Moorlag, Director of CAMDT and Faculty of Applied Science and Technology (FAST) Research. “Industry partners benefit by being able to carry out interdisciplinary work that would otherwise require a large in-house team, and Sheridan staff and students have the opportunity to contribute to research that is new, diverse and directly relevant to industry.”

Researchers and project partners pose with the Animated Virtual Agent.

CloudConstable’s AVA TM was first used commercially in 2020 by Oshawa’s Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum, which installed the animated character to revolutionize the visitor and volunteer experience and later programmed it to perform COVID-19 screening that helped the museum safely re-open its doors. AVA’s ability to recognize people’s faces, check them for elevated temperatures and understand simple nodding and pointing gestures make it an ideal tool to screen people in high-traffic areas such as airports without putting a human screener at risk. It could also be used to support staff in hospitals, long-term care facilities, tourism, leisure and other sectors that rely on human interaction.

Learn more about the interdisciplinary collaboration that helped advance CloudConstable’s AVA.

Pictured aboveDrew Pitchford, CAMDT Student Research Assistant (photo courtesy of CloudConstable); various Sheridan staff, faculty and students stand around the AVA kiosk: (left to right) CAMDT Manager Saleh Jiddawi, Dr. Nilufar Poshtiban, Professor; Sanket Patel, CAMDT Student Research Assistant; Mickey Wang, Industrial Design Studio Monitor; Scot Laughton, Industrial Design Studio Head and Professor.
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