Avatars are virtual representatives of human users in virtual environments, often sharing
space with agents, which represent computer processes or programs.Their basic advantage
is in providing a social dimension to the computer communication process.These tech-
nologies form an important part in online communication technologies because they do
not have the high bandwidth demands that other technologies which present the real
user in a virtual environment do, such as video conferencing.
Avatars and agents utilise similar three-dimensional graphics and animation technologies,
making them seem vivid and appealing.They can be made to `speak' using text-to-speech
technologies, or with input from the user's own mouth. Combined with haptic interfaces,
avatars can be used to study three-dimensional objects, such as sculptures and other art-
works. In such cases, the user sees his or her avatar in the virtual space, and can gain the
impression of touching virtual representations of the objects.This enables the simulated
tactile exploration of objects too delicate to handle in real life.
The use of avatar and agent technologies is most beneficial in cases where the nature
and quality of communication between users (or between users and the software) is crucial.
Regardless of the nature of the work, from local government, to cooperative teamwork,
to learning environments, avatars and agents create new opportunities. In the cultural and
scientific heritage sectors, agents are an increasingly popular option for tour guides in
virtual exhibitions.Their use allows new approaches to the presentation of a collection,
allowing for the personalisation of virtual tours by matching them with visitors' profiles.
Agents have a special role for presenting material in the field of performing arts, such
as dance. If the traditional approach would have been the use of a human demonstrator
or animated images, agents provide more flexibility to the user who would like to learn
more details from a specific dance, for example. Avatars can help users to visit a virtual
museum and its exhibits.When combined with robotic
technology, this visit could be performed using a real
robot, moving through the exhibition on behalf of a
geographically distant user, thus giving a stronger and
more `real' feeling of interaction.
Case studies in this section provide an insight into the
uses of avatars in three very different arenas. SEONAID
(the Scottish Executive Online News and Information
Distributor) was conceived as an outreach tool for getting
younger citizens interested in the workings of their
government.The Peranakans Project deals with cul-
ture, history and education, with the avatar guide being
used as an immediate, visual and identifiable conduit for
learning about different ways of life.The EC-funded
heGlasgowStory and Glasgow City Council (Libr
aries, Information and Lear
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