The Hans Christian Andersen system was developed in the European NICE (Natural Interactive Communication for Edutainment) project 2002-2005. The main goal of the project was to demonstrate natural human-system interaction for edutainment by developing natural, fun and experientially rich communication between humans and embodied historical and literary characters. The target users are 10-18 years old children and teenagers. The primary use setting for the system is in museums and other public locations. Here users from many different countries are expected to have English conversation with Andersen for an average duration of, say, 5-15 minutes.

The user sees Andersen in his original study in Copenhagen and communicates with him in fully mixed-initiative conversation using spontaneous speech and 2D input gesture (Figure 1). Thus, the user can change the topic of conversation, back-channel comments on what HCA is saying, or point to objects in Andersen?s study whenever s/he wants, and receive his response when appropriate.

A user communicating with Andersen

Figure 1. A user communicating with Andersen.

3D animated Andersen communicates through audiovisual speech, gesture, facial expression, body movement and action. Figure 2 shows him gesturing in his study while Figure 3 shows a facial expression close-up. The high-level theory of conversation underlying Andersen?s conversational behaviour is derived from analyses of social conversations aimed at making new friends - emphasising common ground, expressive story-telling, rhapsodic topic shifts, balance of "expertise", etc. When Andersen is alone in his study, he goes about his work, thinking, meandering in locomotion, and looking out at the streets of Copenhagen. When the user points at an object in his study, he looks at the object and then looks back at the user before telling a story about the object. HCA has knowledge about his works, in particular three of his fairytales, his life, mostly his childhood, his physical and personal presence, his study including the objects in there, the user, and generic input including meta-communication. The objects that the user can get information about from HCA via gesture input are the 16 pictures on the walls, a feather pen and a travel bag.

Andersen's study

Figure 2. Andersen gesturing in his study.

Close-up of Andersen

Figure 3. Close-up of Andersen.