If Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reading his crystal ball correctly, then the next big thing will be social virtual reality. In the very near future, you’ll put on a virtual reality headset and meet up with friends for virtual hangouts, live concerts, and interactive games.
But as anyone who survived the early Second Life scene can attest, virtual avatars can be pretty socially inept. After all, there’s only so much you can say with a permasmile frozen on your face.
This week, a neurotechnology company based in Switzerland called MindMaze unveiled a product that can synchronize a variety of human facial expressions on virtual avatars. Called MASK, the technology reads your brain signals to predict a smile or a wink milliseconds before you even move. The result is a faster-than-real-time reflection of your changing facial expressions that has the potential to add new emotional depth to social and gaming interactions in VR and bring the technology’s use further into the mainstream.
Seeker tested out the predictive VR technology at MindMaze’s San Francisco offices. The MASK device is little more than a foam insert that overlays comfortably into existing VR headsets, whether they are desktop models like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive or mobile units like Google Daydream. The foam insert is equipped with eight sensors that can detect different brain signal “channels.”
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It takes between 10 to 20 milliseconds for a “smile” signal from the brain to make it to the mouth, which is just enough time for MASK to hijack the brain signal and project a simultaneous smile onto a virtual avatar.