Avatar based on kiwi technology helping thousands of Australians with a disability

01 March 2017

Her name is Nadia and she is changing the face of interaction between humans and machines.

Developed by academy award winner Associate Professor Mark Sagar, the world-first human like avatar with the voice of a Hollywood star is based on the Baby-X technology created at the University of Auckland.

Baby-X is an intelligent, emotionally responsive virtual toddler which drew worldwide attention when it was released in 2013, leading to the launch of artificial intelligence company Soul Machines, a spin-out venture from the University of Auckland Bioengineering Institute.

The recent commercialisation of Soul Machines was the largest deal of its type the University and their commercial company, Auckland UniServices, have done to date. Associate Professor Sagar is the CEO of Soul Machines and heads the University’s Lab for Animate Technologies.

Earlier this month Soul Machines unveiled Nadia, an online virtual assistant for Australia’s disabled community who can understand thousands of questions put to her in plain English and respond with clear and simple replies. The more interactions she has with people, the more her knowledge bank grows.

Nadia was developed for the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme in collaboration with a range of people with different disabilities. She has the potential to provide services to 500,000 Australians with a disability, who may not be able to complete tasks such as typing on a keyboard, opening a letter, or picking up a phone and making a phone call.

Dr Sagar, who won two academy awards for his work on the Avatar blockbuster, teamed up with Hollywood star Cate Blanchett to create Nadia, with Blanchett providing the voice for the virtual assistant.  

Dr Sagar says the technology empowers people with disabilities to be able to participate more fully in an increasingly digital world.

“It showcases what can happen when you combine artificial intelligence with a very human user experience,” he says.

Nadia is one of the most advanced human/machine interfaces developed in the artificial intelligence space and will operate in a trial environment for the next 12 months before becoming fully operational.

Notes for editors

The University of Auckland has been identified by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study as one of the world’s leading entrepreneurial universities “under challenging conditions”.

·         Soul Machines develops interfaces between humans and their machines, based on technology created by Dr Mark Sagar and his team at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) at the University of Auckland.

·         UniServices, the commercial company of the University of Auckland, is the top commercialisation company in Australasia (1,200 active contracts with 300 firms at any one time).

  • The University generates patents at six times the average rate of other NZ universities and CRIs.
  • The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s leading university. It is the only NZ university ranked in in the top 100 in the QS World University Rankings, in the top 200 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The University is also the highest ranked New Zealand university in the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities.


Media contact:

Danelle Clayton
Communications, Vice-Chancellor's Office
The University of Auckland
Email: d.clayton@auckland.ac.nz