What if when you walked into a shopping centre a hologram appeared, started a conversation, answered your questions and directed you where you wanted to go?

It still sounds like science fiction, but two brothers in Braunton have been working at the cutting edge of technology for 12 years and have developed exactly that – now they hope to launch it on the world stage and go head to head with the tech giants.

In partnership with artificial intelligence (AI) expert Professor Dr Tania Peitzker, Darren and Cliff Lee have launched their company Velmai Ltd, which is already being recognised as one of the UK’s leading ‘chatbot’ developers.

Now they hope to take on the market giants such as Google and Amazon at their own game and have orders from a multimedia company in Monaco and a global NGO in Paris, as well as pilots lined up with several multibillion corporations in Germany and Switzerland. It is looking to raise 10 million Euros in investment by 2019

Chatbots, which help answer questions and direct people to services on websites, are not new, but the trio behind Velmai believe their ‘virtual assistant’ creation is still one of the most advanced out there and set to take the technology to a whole new level.

The customisable ‘bot can be applied to an endless variety of applications, as shown by several prototype characters already in existence, including Albert, an online chatbot who also serves as Tania’s private secretary.

Others have included Sophia the Banker, who lived on Canadian-Chinese chat app kik.com, plus Sir Loin Your Virtual Butcher who was happy to chat about meat in a Kent farms’ butchery and Charlie the Spoof Newsreader who operated on a test site with RSS news feeds from the European Union’s news room.

The chatbots can also speak 130-plus languages.

Darren and Cliff have been working on this technology for a long time, with Darren supplying the technical know-how and Cliff the artistic design for the characters.

Artist Cliff, who suffered a stroke four years ago aged just 39 and is still recovering, first came up with the idea in 2006 the form of a new extreme sports social media website, but in 2D and with bots peopling the site as users, which morphed into the chatbot concept.

Darren said the applications are endless and they hoped the end product of a chatbot hologram could well be live and operating in Europe sometime this year.

He said: “they don’t know everything about the universe but they are very knowledgeable in their sphere of working.

“There are chatbots all over but they are not emotionally intelligent – ours is more interactive and will understand on a deeper level what the person wants.

“It’s also multi-dimensional from a linguistic point of view, so you don’t have to phrase things in a certain way.”

You can find out more at www.botsasaservice.eu .