Real time avatars

Over the last month or so I have become aware of initiatives to assist users to create life like or even real time gestures for their avatars. It all seemed like a dream of the distant future – well a couple of years at least! But then I came across this posting from the ACM Tech News today – and it looks as though that distant future is just around the corner!

Avatar Mimics You in Real Time (03/25/08) Zyga, Lisa

A digital avatar capable of mirroring a person’s movements in real time has been developed by researchers at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, and Israel’s Ben Gurion University. The researchers say the technology opens up new possibilities for touch-free, intuitive human-computer interaction. The prototype system features real-time performance of audio-visual analysis so that the avatar can move immediately. The system’s hardware ingredients are an inexpensive Webcam and a pair of standard headphones, and the system interoperates with a standard PC. Users must wave their hands around at first so the system can identify their skin color, as it depends on recognizing skin color to follow hand and head movements. The system is capable of recognizing a series of 66 parameters that classify facial expression, and there are also high-level facial expressions that users can manually activate with buttons. The system can recognize many basic gestures, including those from the American Sign Language alphabet, by finger position analysis. Future applications include its employment in virtual chat rooms and online call centers, where users are represented by avatars to maintain privacy. In mobile devices the avatar system could function as an interface that promotes user-friendliness.
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How awesome will this be! except that now everyone will know if I am yawning or dozing off or just staring out the window or doing other things that maybe I shouldn’t! The potential uses seem endless but is it an invasion of our privacy – do I want someone else to know what my real self is doing? It raises all kinds of questions about what we expect our avatar to be and how far it is us and how far it is a fantasy! One part of me is fascinated the other is somewhat wary!


3 responses to “Real time avatars

  1. Exactly what has been missing from Second Life. I was conducting some research regarding animations which is now completely redundant – at last! And a new word – “viseme”. This is similar to something I’ve seen used with Logitech webcams but nice to see it moved to 3D

  2. arwennastardust

    Not sure that your research is completely redundant yet John! May be a while before this finds its way to SL and what about those who choose not to use it o or do you think everyone will want to?
    btw – what does viseme mean?

  3. Hi, I live and work in New Zealand Aotearoa. I have spent the last 9 months in Second Life, as part of my Masters study in Dance and Video (see above blog), exploring relationships between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ movement and possibilities for animating avatars in certain Contact Improvisation Dance movements so far without success. A range of dance movements exist already in SL but these are all choreographed, Salsa to Ballroom with some random Contemporary. They are all fixed animations that can be bought. If I can access ‘real-time’ movement for my Avatar in-life, this would be an incalculable leap forward because it makes current the introduction of improvisation in-life. An extraordinary development.

    I am very interested to know more about this development and if there is a timeline for projected sales of soft/hardware.


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