"I have seen the future and it is us!"
—Walt Kelly's Pogo, paraphrased

Ananova looks, acts, and behaves like any human newscaster; she displays a range of emotions that includes winking, smiling, and even snarling; and she can also speak 16 different languages. Ananova is always on, 24 hours a day, delivering the news you want, whenever you want it. She is a Wired Walter Winchell, 2001's Hal, Star Trek: The Next Generation's onboard computer, and the Connie Chung of the virtual highway—all rolled into one. Ananova is the voice of the future.

For the creation of Ananova, the world's most advanced Internet and communications technologies were called upon: Digital animation group plc (DAG), Lernout and Hauspie, RealNetworks, and Digital Islands. Scottish-based DAG, one of the UK's leading animation specialists, developed real-time 3D animation technology, bringing Ananova to life and enabling her to present breaking news with a "human" touch in real-time, with information via video bulletins.

Ananova represents the ultimate human/computer interface. The virtual character concept came from an idea to create a human interface for a text-based news service. She was conceived with the idea that face-to-face communication is the oldest and most natural interface in the world. The human face delivers a feeling of interaction and trust, engaging the listener with eye contact and expression. Research shows that people prefer to receive information from a human source, and respond more positively to the sound of a female voice. Aesthetically, a female face is often more pleasing to the eye, and the female voice is traditionally used for communicating information, such as the speaking clock or announcements at railway stations. Of course, Ananova the company realized that a virtual newscaster would also be a world first, which would position the company across the globe as innovative.

The Creation of Ananova

The designers of Ananova had a number of criteria to meet when they created her. She had to have global appeal and good looks, while still being trustworthy and believable at the same time. Her look was chosen so that she is attractive to the eye and is as neutral as possible. Most people have preferences in personal appearance, and by giving Ananova a unique style—such as green hair and a region-free, mid-Atlantic accent—she can appeal to more people. Having these distinctive features ensures that Ananova is unique and instantly recognizable, making her synonymous with breaking news and information.

Ananova is not based on any one person (although some people say she is a cross between Kylie Minogue, Carol Vorderman, and Posh Spice). Designers spent many hours choosing a combination of facial features that would give her a distinctive, yet appealing, look. She was designed for the Internet and mobile devices, and it was important for her to have distinctive features due to the varying quality of display. Her proportionally larger mouth and eyes serve to engage the user at whatever size she is displayed.

The Technology behind the Virtual Newscaster

The technical challenge for Ananova's developers initially was how to engineer a fully-animated 3D character capable of creating dynamically-generated news bulletins in a style and tone appropriate to specific pieces of content. To create Ananova's voice, text-to-speech synthesis software from Lernout & Hauspie (L&H) was integrated with Ananova's real-time information systems. Feedback from the L&H Realspeak generates the automatic lip-synching on her face. This ensures that her words are almost indistinguishable from human speech. In-depth, language-specific linguistic knowledge provides intelligent pronunciation and allows text to be read by a human-sounding voice.

Using technology supplied by RealNetworks, Ananova is seen in the form of on-demand streaming video. RealNetworks was selected to support Ananova's real-time bulletins with its RealSystem R G2 technology. Streamed through the RealPlayer R, Ananova offers more than 115 million unique registered worldwide users of RealPlayer a new way to access news and information.

San Francisco-based Digital Island ensures that Ananova can reach her worldwide audience using its global e-Business Delivery Network. Using Digital Island's Footprint on-demand streaming service, on-line audiences can view Ananova's broadcasts simultaneously around the world, giving users high-speed local access to streaming content for broadcast-quality viewing.

Ananova and the World

Ananova is very careful about what Ananova the virtual newscaster does and does not do. She has to remain a trusted source in the same way that newsreaders on today's television are viewed. Just a year-and-a-half old, Ananova still receives accolades and praise in newspaper and TV articles around the world. She is an official Guinness World Record holder as the World's First Virtual Newscaster, and has been invited to speak at conferences hosted by The United Nations, Cisco Systems, and the Newspaper Association of America. Ananova receives Valentine cards, marriage proposals, and requests from schoolchildren for help with their homework. In Holland a couple even named their child after her (spelled Annanova). Click on the image below to go to Ananova.com and see for yourself if this phenomenon is indeed the face of your future.

www.ananova.com

Ananova Limited is part of the Orange Mobile Communications Group, one of Europe's most innovative Internet businesses. In April 2000, the live news and information website was launched, featuring real-time news, sports, entertainment, business, and weather for the UK.

Ananova Ltd. 2001. Reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.

Back to