Sprint: Virtual Newsman More than a Talking Head

BURLINGAME, CALIF. (05/01/2000) - If you think Ananova, the virtual newscaster unveiled last month, is the greatest thing since American television news personality Dan Rather, meet Chase Walker.

Under development at Sprint Corp.'s Advanced Technology Laboratory, Chase Walker is an animated news host who can interact with his user. He may someday appear in homes via Sprint's Integrated On-Demand Network (ION), the company's converged network services backbone, according to executives at the U.S. carrier.

As demonstrated at Sprint's lab here last week by Christos Tryfanos, a company scientist, an animated Chase Walker appears on a screen and, along with a series of facial ticks and blinks, reads the day's news and weather. Tryfanos showed that users can tailor which information they choose to hear Chase say by using simple voice requests with which the cyber newsman can comply.

"Chase is an interactive, intelligent, virtual, personalized agent who resides on the network," Tryfanos said.

The interactive newsreader was originally developed by engineers working with Sprint who are in the process of setting up a company known as Headpedal.

Chase is a lot more sophisticated than Ananova, the virtual news reader recently demonstrated by U.K.-based news agency the Press Association, Sprint lab's engineers and scientists said here last week. Ananova made her online debut late last month. [See "World's First Cyber Newscaster Debuts," April 20.]"Ananova isn't interactive," said Scott Prevost, co-founder and president of Headpedal. "With Chase, you can interrupt him and get him to tell you different stories at different times in various levels of detail."

Chase may someday be able to tell users information about a television schedule, enabling them to tell him to select and program a specific channel, Prevost added. An MPEG-4 server will synchronize video and other data streams for the service.

Like many other video applications, end-user bandwidth bottlenecks will still have to be resolved before Sprint can make Chase available to a mass audiences through its network, Laboratory Director Frank DeNap said.

Within about six months, Sprint plans to deploy Chase in its 200 high-bandwidth test homes in Pacifica, California, DeNap added.

Sprint's Advanced Technology Laboratory, based in Burlingame, California, can be reached at +1-650-375-4200 or via Sprint's Web site at http://www.sprint.com/.

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