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5G Grand Challenge top choice brings artificial intelligence to the classroom through virtual reality

5G Grand Challenge top choice brings artificial intelligence to the classroom through virtual reality

Marjorie Zielke, Ph.D., director of the UT Dallas Center for Simulation and Synthetic Humans, is the choice of the Tech Titans inaugural 5G Grand Challenge with her proposed creation of the Emergent Virtual Teacher Platform (EVTP). The program uses sensor capture and Internet of Things (IoT) data and connectivity, low latency, security and speed aspects of 5G to deliver virtual teachers in virtual reality (VR) and holograms.

“Our goal is to eventually create stand-alone, life-like holograms of virtual teachers. We see a future society of synthetic and real humans working together,” said Dr. Zielke.

The Tech Titans Innovation Collider launched the 5G Grand Challenge targeting entrepreneurs designing 5G-enabled solutions. Finalists participated in a Shark Tank-inspired virtual pitch to judges from major technology companies. Finalists from that day of judging went on to a day of celebrity judging from Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Consumer; Mark Cuban of the ‘real’ Shark Tank and Charlotte Jones, Dallas Cowboys Chief Brand Officer.

Dr. Zielke is now eligible for a total $20K award from AT&T, Cisco, Nokia and Ericsson. Other company representatives worked on the project from Axxess, Argent Associates and 2thedge. Almost half of the entries came from outside Texas, making this a nationwide effort.

The project has great potential for delivering the socio-emotional connection missing from current distance education experiences by deploying virtual teachers in educational or home settings and in a variety of languages with specific skills sets.

Dr. Zielke established the Center for Simulation and Synthetic Humans at UT Dallas. The Center has successfully researched, developed and implemented award-winning education and training simulation tools. Its multidisciplinary teams in social science and technology research and manage collaborative projects across medical, education and law enforcement knowledge domains. Dr. Zielke’s research includes the capabilities of capturing unique data through sensors and IoT design, fusing this data into interactive human models and delivering the data quickly and securely through VR.

“Throughout my research I have focused on 5G,” said Dr. Zielke, who has been at UT Dallas for 15 years. She noted that the pandemic has clarified the need for virtual teachers and a platform to create them. “The gaps are very apparent, with school districts scrambling for solutions and parents becoming full-time teachers. Students with special needs have been particularly challenged,” she said.

The virtual teachers in the EVTP program address a critical need and could have huge social impact, closing the physical divide of operating in a virtual world. Its capabilities can be applied to formal education, certificate programs and lifelong training. Current virtual and digital education experiences during the pandemic amplify the potential of virtual teachers and a platform to create them.

Challenge judges were impressed by Dr. Zielke’s wisdom and creativity and are excited to support her research. “This proposal hits all of the pillars of this 5G competition,” said Thaddeus Arroyo. “It addresses a need and has the potential for significant societal impact.”

Charlotte Jones noted that the Dallas Cowboys work to create and deliver a virtual experience for those who do not interact face-to-face with the team, a broad swathe of their fan base. “This is certainly interesting and important for education It’s essential purpose has a lot of applications,” she said.

Mark Cuban commented on its potential to provide access to virtual teachers for students attending disadvantaged schools.

Jones also was impressed with the social-emotional component of the platform. “The capacity to provide an empathic, virtual teacher is really interesting,” she said.

“It’s all about having a passion and sticking with it,” said Dr. Zielke. She said that being selected for the 5G Grand Challenge was a huge honor.

The Innovation Collider plans to repeat some version of the Grand Challenge in the future.
Dr. Zielke will be recognized during the Tech Titans Awards on Oct. 23.

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