Volio - Talk to Esquire

A few weeks ago I attended the DEMO Mobile conference in San Francisco. It was an absolute treat, and with the exception of a few technical issues, a top notch production. We got off to a great start with a group of presentations about MHealth.

Maybe it’s due to my longstanding interest in artificial intelligence, but the product I found most interesting was by a company called Volio. Volio is an Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup founded by Ron Croen, one of the founders of Nuance (the company behind Siri). They weave together video, voice recognition, and artificial language processing with well executed strategy and stellar production value – the final product is a “whole new way to experience stories and content.”

Essentially, their product allows a brand to provide a video based one-to-one interaction with a virtual character.  For an example of how it works, download the “Talk to Esquire” app from the Apple iTunes store. Esquire fashion director Nick Sullivan, drinks correspondent David Wondrich and Cutler Salons owner Rodney Cutler will ask you questions about your needs, habits and preferences. Answer back with your voice and they will steer you to a solution in the form of an outfit, cocktail or styling product.

Here a some of my thoughts on how this technology can be applied in the Pharmaceutical, Medical, and Wellness space:

  • I can see many applications for this kind of technology for Pharma.  Volio’s engaging interaction could easily replace a static pre-diagnostic screener.  Imagine a prospective customer arriving at your site, and instead of being asked to take a boring questionnaire they are able to converse with a virtual person, who can ask questions about their condition in a colloquial manner.
  • For general health and wellness, Volio’s video and conversational abilities could be applied to coaching activities where the user needs to see information and can’t indicate a response with their hands.  The user could follow an exercise video and respond audibly to the virtual instructor’s queries without being distracted by typing or using a controller.
  • Enhanced customer support and support for clinical diagnosis.  Envision the following scenario:

You’ve scheduled your appointment with your doctor.  In advance of the appointment, you get an email with a link to a Volio. Instead of waiting to get to your doctor’s office to fill out a form with questions about your illness, you hold a five minute conversation with a Volio character, and all the forms are filled out before you arrive. Perhaps your doctor has even had a chance to review your conversation ahead of time and has already prepared follow-up questions. Perhaps the conversation could even be integrated with IBM’s Watson technology, and, while reviewing the conversation, Watson provides diagnosis support to the Doctor. 

As this technology proliferates, we will undoubtedly see many brilliant creative applications.   There is great potential to better serve the user through body language, and intuitive conversational communication.  A video-based virtual character could make the user feel more at ease, and gently prod them to reveal information that they would not disclose to a text based form or a robotic phone interface.  Volio stands at the forefront of this technology, and it will be interesting to see where they lead.

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