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DoCoMo gets the metaverse to play with itself

It doesn't matter if people shun the metaverse because DoCoMo has found a way for the metaverse to self-populate.

Nick Wood

January 17, 2024

3 Min Read

The Japanese operator has developed a piece of software that uses AI to generate non-playable characters (NPCs) for the metaverse based on text prompts.

One of the criticisms levelled at metaverses is that they are empty and devoid of character – like a party to which nobody showed up.

NPCs can help to overcome this problem by filling the room with bodies. They might not be as fun to interact with, but they could give enough real people something sufficiently interesting to do that it might just lay the foundations for a budding online community.

The problem is, creating an NPC normally takes a busy programmer time and effort, and once they have developed a few different iterations, they move onto the next task. This results in spaces populated by cookie-cutter NPCs that offer little entertainment.

By using AI, DoCoMo has found a way to quickly populate a metaverse with an infinitely-varied cast of characters.

There are actually three generative AI solutions at work.

The first is a behaviour-logic genAI that defines how the NPC moves and interacts with its environment and other characters. This is then interpreted by an animation AI that creates a skeletal-looking framework that can get the NPC actually moving. The third stage takes the first two stages – plus the text inputs – and creates the NPC's final appearance.

So, someone could type in 'athletic, rakishly handsome, irreverent telecoms journalist', and DoCoMo's AI would, well it would probably blow a fuse, but you get the idea.

If this is all too trivial, the same department within DoCoMo has also been working on a genAI solution that is designed to predict and visualise changes in the human brain.

Trained on 150,000 MRI brain scans and developed under the supervision of a dementia specialist, DoCoMo hopes that its new technology can be implemented in easy-to-use solutions that allow non-specialists to monitor and support a patient's brain health.

This is significant because, according to DoCoMo, by 2025 one in five elderly people in Japan is expected to be living with some form of dementia. It would benefit the healthcare system enormously if these patients didn't have to book an appointment with a specialist every time they needed a brain check-up.

DoCoMo's genAI undertakings will doubtless be among the many innovations on show at its stand at Mobile World Congress (MWC) next month.

The telco presented in a separate announcement a sneak preview of what it will take to Barcelona this year.

One of these includes the latest demonstration of Feel Tech. Unveiled this time last year, it consists of devices that use haptic sensors to detect sensation and convert it to a signal, which is then sent over the Internet to a receiving device that converts it back into a sensation. Pitched as a use case for future 6G networks, the potential applications of this technology are...best left to the imagination.

DoCoMo is also preparing to show off a concept of its extended reality (XR) glasses. Developed by its NTT QONOQ unit, it reckons they could go on sale from mid-2024, potentially pitting them – in Japan at least – against Apple's expensive Vision Pro headset.

DoCoMo will also showcase its work on 6G non-terrestrial-networking (NTN) tech – including high-altitude platform systems (HAPS) – as well as its latest Open RAN solutions and initiatives.

If none of that grabs attendees' attention, they might just have to bring in the AI-generated NPCs to generate a bit of buzz instead.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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