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Instant digital faces set for cellphones too

25 September 2002 News

In the future, avatars will help guide surfers around the Internet. These digital companions can provide vital assistance for Web shoppers and add a human touch to interactive services on the display of UMTS cellphones. While avatars exist only on computers, they bear a striking resemblance to humans thanks to highly advanced technology.

The MPEG 4 standard makes it possible to transmit multimedia data such as video and audio recordings, photos or even three-dimensional images very efficiently through existing communications networks, thus also paving the way for the widespread use of avatars.

In the past, these artificial beings were usually part of nonstandardised computer programs that needed the same software for inter-computer communication. Researchers at Siemens in Munich have now used the standard MPEG 4 data format to create a range of avatars. The scientists scanned the faces of test persons with laser beams and created three-dimensional heads on the computer. These scans were then translated into digital wire-frame models consisting of many tiny triangles covered with virtual skin.

To recreate facial expressions such as joy, anger, surprise or sadness, some of the triangles at specific grid points are distorted. These expressions and gestures are then linked with speech patterns. To do so, the computer transforms written syllables into sounds and adds the appropriate lip movements. While repeating pre-programmed sentences or imitating facial expressions, the computer heads can be moved in all directions using the mouse.

To demonstrate their talents, the researchers presented a female avatar on an internal website. At a click of the mouse, the digital woman reads descriptions of cellphones and fixed line telephones. Avatars could also be used as assistants for filling out Web forms, telling the user what information must be entered in specific fields.

Scientists are currently trying to use their animation technique directly on digital portraits. This would allow for the rapid introduction of such avatars in cellphones. Three-dimensional faces require too much computing capacity and therefore consume too much valuable battery power.

The new technique would, however, ensure that avatars could be fully operated on today's GSM cellphones, as 84 grid points are sufficient for creating the necessary movements and require a data rate of only 4 Kbps is needed.

For more information contact Kayindira Moodley, Siemens Southern Africa, 011 652 2000.





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