Space & Innovation

This Pod Makes Lifelike 3D Avatars for VR

Step aside cartoon characters, and make way for lifelike avatars.

For the last six months, Timmu Tõke has been living in Los Angeles, a 12-hour flight from his family and friends in Estonia. Interacting with them over Snapchat, Facebook Messenger or Skype is fine for now, but not ideal. Tõke envisions a future where a realistic 3D avatar of himself meets up in a virtual world to interact with other avatars that look just like the people from home.

As the CEO of Wolfprint 3D, he's on track to make that vision a reality. Four of his company's egg-shaped photo booths are being tested and so far they've scanned 5,500 people. Tõke is in the middle of raising funds through SeedInvest, and has plans to install 60 more pods in the United States in malls, airports, cinemas, museums and other public places, where anyone can slip inside and get a personalized, 3D avatar.

"Our goal with the booth is to make it as easy as a normal photo both," Tõke told Seeker.

The cost? Free.

Money would come from companies in the gaming or entertainment industry that want to use the 3D avatars in their VR experiences. If your privacy hackles are going up, Tõke says his company won't make avatars available to third parties unless it has the person's permission to do so.

If there's no place yet to use your free 3D avatar, wait. With the flood of VR headsets coming onto the market — including the latest from Google, the Daydream, due out Nov. 10 — virtual reality is getting real. It's already making headway in the gaming industry and earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off the company's latest version of its Social VR experience.

In these environments, people will meet up in locations and interact. They could have a business meeting in Hong Kong, battle against zombies with complete strangers or hike through the Alps with friends. As the virtual environments become more realistic, so too should the people.

"We want to create authentic relationships and interactions between people in virtual reality and that's why you want to use your own scan," said Tõke. "You don't want to speak with a turtle when it's your mother."

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Creating one's own lifelike avatar seems pretty easy. Go inside the booth, enter your information, including email address and sit down. Six cameras take photographs of you from three angles and then software stitches the images together and uploads your favorite to a web-based database. The link to it is emailed to the user.

Once Wolfprint 3D reaches its fundraising goal, they'll use the money to work on the backend software that connects the avatar database to various gaming and entertainment industries. Users will have the option of making their avatar available to these companies or keeping it private. With your permission, a game company could put your face on of its characters or a filmmaker could use your avatar as an extra in a movie.

Eventually Wolfprint 3D would like to take the technology out of the booth and put it into a smartphone. But for now, they'll focus on the pods.

"This is something you cannot walk past without thinking, What is that egg about?" Tõke said.

That egg is the future.