Virtual Assistant Summit SF, 2017

Virtual Assistant Summit SF, 2017

Last January, Virtual Assistant Summit took place in San Francisco. The conference showcased advances in virtual assistants (VAs) and artificial intelligence from the world’s leading innovators.

Forty speakers and 200 leading technologists held group brainstorming sessions, interactive workshops and many hours of networking. They highlighted the opportunities and trends in VAs and their impact on business and society.

One session that captured our attention was “Building Blocks of Creating Empathy,” by Alonso Martinez from Pixar. He explained the character design process, highlighting how characters must create a bond with users to foster empathy. Art, animation, color, story and sound all impart characters with meaning that make them relatable and enjoyable for users,  and these guidelines are also applicable to designing robots.



According to Martinez, if we want to design successful robots, we should focus on the smallest details that can make them relatable, and ensure that robots can evolve and learn and so that each user can develop a unique connection with their robot. He designed a mini-bot named Mira, in collaboration with Aaron Nathan of Point One Navigation and Vijay Sundaram of Innovation Endeavors, which uses facial recognition software to detect if someone is looking at her and follow their gaze as they move about. She even gets sad if you hide from her, and her color changes based on her mood!


This session allowed us to analyze several robots, including our chatbot, Pepper. We were glad to see that we’re on the right track already with many of his design features, especially:

– Pepper’s circular shape is soft and friendly.
– His blue coloring projects a sense of calm.
– His eye expressions add relatable warmth.
– He can evolve according to the user’s preferences.



The conference was fantastic, and left us even more excited about current and future technological advancements and industry trends in the field of virtual assistants.


Armando Russi



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