Jul 5, 2017 | By Julia

A clever Florida-based developer has gotten inventive with his Microsoft Cortana AI assistant. Jarem Archer, clearly a huge fan of the Halo video game franchise, has built a holographic AI avatar modelled after the Halo character Cortana, the synthetic intelligence character voiced by Jen Taylor.

Still a work in progress, Archer says the Cortana appliance is essentially what he imagined “Microsoft’s version of Alexa or Google Home would be like if they were to use the holographic AI sidekick from the Halo franchise.”

The project is especially timely considering Microsoft’s recent announcement that over 145 million users are now using its Cortana artificial intelligence assistant, making up a huge chunk of the 500 million Windows 10 users.

Now, those users can finally have a holographic face and body to go along with the disembodied voice of the popular Cortana assistant. That is, if they follow the guidance laid out on Archer’s blog.

“I say ‘holographic’ as it’s a friendlier term, but the effect produced is essentially what’s called ‘Pepper’s ghost,’” Archer explains. “[That means] specialized mirror glass that reflects a display at an angle which produces a translucent image. This is also how many teleprompters work. I went with a pyramid design which allows viewers to see the Cortana assistant on either side, in addition to the front.”

Archer powered the whole thing with a Windows 10 device with 4BG of RAM and a built-in Arduino for controlling the platform lights. A portable USB monitor on top reflects on 3 panes of mirrored glass, while the actual enclosure is a custom design modelled by Archer himself. Each part of the assembly was 3D printed in PLA. Archer also decided to give the audio a serious boost as well, in the form of an omnidirectional microphone which sits on top of the unit, and a smaller speaker built into the base pedestal.

The software he used features two main components: a Unity 3D application that presents and animates Cortana using three different camera angles, while communicating to a proxy service that separates data running back and forth from the native Cortana web service. This proxy app renders the HTML from Cortana’s result queries, which then gets presented in the Unity app.

Real-time face tracking is also featured via the front-facing camera. This is what moves the rendered camera perspective in accordance to the viewer’s head position — in other words, what makes the hologram appear three-dimensional when facing it. The Unity app also controls an LED light strip running around the perimeter of Cortana’s platform.

On his blog, Archer acknowledges he couldn’t have done it alone. “Cortana's animations were recorded with the help of my lovely wife who regrettably endured many takes of motion capture in our living room,” the Florida developer says. Archer used dual Kinects to record his wife’s motions, which were then applied to the Cortana model in Unity.

Other animations include an array of screens that Cortana brings forward with her hand gestures. The screen animations are relatively unique for each query, with each screen displaying a unique mock UI loop.

Since the project is entirely derived from the native Windows 10 Cortana, the device can also be used for home automation and music tasks, in addition to standard knowledge-based queries. Archer says that he will include more animations for query processing in the future, and may extend functionality by building UWP apps that fulfill Cortana integration.

Future developments aside, this project is already looking solid, and is sure to turn the heads of Cortana and Halo fans alike.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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