Merging the Human and Digital Avatar: Ranganath Jagannath, Director-Growth, Agora

The new next normal could mean every human having experienced a digital avatar of their real-world objects in their homes writes Ranganath Jagannath.


The ongoing pandemic has forced the entire population to stay indoors while giving birth to what we are now calling the ‘new normal’. The foundation for this is based on real time engagement with technology integrated into every aspect of it, enabling human beings to execute everyday office tasks in a virtual manner and other collaborative tools.

These days it feels like many of us are leading two lives — one rooted in the physical world, and another that is taking place virtually on platforms we turn to for diverse forms of engagement. What started out as a dire need to replace in-person interaction at work or school has turned into a realization that increased adoption of real-time engagement technology makes us more connected, effective, and flexible, regardless of physical limitations.

In the current pandemic situation, real-time engagement has gained prominence than ever before changing the way people around the globe communicate in today’s digital world. Agora, a global company and leading video, voice and live interactive streaming platform is servicing over 40 billion minutes of human engagements a month across the globe and making various experiences come alive.

Augmented Reality – the next technology revolution

This digital experiential revolution is happening on the backbone of real-time engagement platforms supporting business continuity across sectors such as education, retail, gaming, entertainment, healthcare, among others. Technologies such as Augmented reality, Virtual reality and Mixed Reality are in demand as they are helping companies with remote assistance, training and workshops which are a critical aspect of business continuity in current times.

Modern video calling has some significant limitations when it comes to the camera and the way it represents us. Hiding backgrounds for privacy, adding beautification to feel comfortable with your look, or just wearing funny face filters to warm up the conversation – these features, so seemingly simple yet essential are all a possibility today. Agora has joined forces with Banuba, a computer vision European startup, to bring Face AR technology to video calls. Banuba's Face AR SDK (Software Development Kit) enables filters, 3D animation, virtual backgrounds, and avatars in any application or website. An interesting feature, Beauty AR enhances the face during a video call or live streaming. One single filter adds skin smoothing, teeth whitening, face morphing, and other beautification options to instantly improve the way the camera presents us and lets us all feel comfortable about the morning meetings.

The technology is cross-platform with Android, iOS, HTML5, and Unity game engine support. Other areas where it can be used are:

· Games with video chats for users could stream and play together.

· Video conferencing software allowing users to change backgrounds, apply to touch up and makeup filters.

· Social apps where users can take professional photos, short videos, stories overlaying filters, animation, and style transfer effects.

· Virtual try-on apps allowing consumers to wear glasses, jewelry, hats, accessories, face wear via web and mobile.

· Makeup simulators and hairstyle apps for beauty brands with ‘magic-mirror’ product representation in colors, shades, and lighting and much more.

Innovative engagement to spur the travel & entertainment industry

Another interesting concept is Metaverse, which is really an amalgamation of the internet, AR, and VR. To better illustrate this with an example – if you are planning a trip to Rome, you will evidently look up the net for the best travel plans, best tour guides, places of interest and historical significance among a host of other things. In a Metaverse environment, you go further than the internet experience. You can put on your AR/VR headset and be transported to Rome via a virtual city tour and garner a real time experience before-hand virtually. It would be like your digital avatar is visiting the places of interest and making a check list of places you want to visit. You can get to see what’s cooking at the restaurants or get a preview of the upcoming band perform which will help you block your tickets for the performance immediately. With VR/AR, we can also virtually travel with a friend (with video and voice added to your VR experience) so both of you (or many of you) are sharing the same experience even though you are physically apart.

For marketers and brand managers, its pertinent to replicate the in-person experience for people while they are at home while also making it a two-way experience, which is the growing trend. Today, there is a possibility of listening to your favorite singer and singing along with them with the help of AR/VR technology. All this in the comfort of your living room in real time. This could be one of the best initiatives to revive the entertainment industry.

I believe the possibilities of real time engagement are endless and to put it in the right context, as late American astronomer Carl Sagan said, ‘Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.’ The new next normal could mean every human having experienced a digital avatar of their real-world objects in their homes.

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