Space & Innovation

VR Avatars Mimic Users' Facial Expressions

The technology opens the door to real-time social interactions in a virtual environment. Continue reading →

Virtual reality avatars just got more personal. Now, they can imitate a computer user's facial expressions when they laugh, smile or even frown and interact with other players' avatars.

Researchers at the University of Southern California enlisted the help of the Oculus Rift headset for 3-D gaming to create sensors that can detect a person's facial expressions and replicate them in virtual reality in almost real-time.

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The system uses eight strain gauges embedded in the headset's foam liner - to detect muscle movements - along with a 3-D mapping camera mounted on the headset that's pointed at the lower half of the user's face.

The user is required to repeat a small subset of training experiences during a calibration prior to initial use. This improves the tracking ability and provides greater accuracy when reading expressions, according to the project's lead Hao Li. After the person's face is fully mapped, the user can begin making expressions that will be transferred onto their VR avatar.

Watch the technology unfold in the video below. The headset's clunky, but the technology opens the door to real-time social interactions in a virtual environment, which could be a real game changer.

click to play video

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"The resulting animations are visually on par with cutting-edge depth sensor-driven facial performance capture systems and hence, are suitable for social interactions in virtual worlds," Li writes in the caption below his video.

The Oculus Rift headset is scheduled for release in early 2016, though the contraption enabling avatars to imitate users' facial expressions is a work in progress.

via Wired

This week, our tech slideshow is all about the Mobile World Congress, the consumer electronics show that takes place in Barcelona each year. Innovative smartphones, wearable computers and Internet-connected cars are among some of the technologies that were on display. Here are some of our favorites.

The Mirama smart glasses, from

Japan-based Brilliant Service

, have a gesture recognition system combined with augmented reality technology. The wearer uses her hands to interact with virtual objects seen in the glasses. Brilliant service wants their smart glasses to one day replace for smartphones.

For its unique aluminum unibody design, the HTC ONE was awarded this year's "Smartphone of the Year."

Walldorf, Germany-based SAP is working with the German national football team to prepare for the World Cup in 2014, and take soccer to the next level. The ball has embedded sensors and electronics that capture and analyze a wealth of data in real time, including spatial analysis of player movements.

Blackphone is the world's first smartphone that places security back into the hands of the user. The $629 phone, which comes unlocked, was developed in a partnership between Silent Circle and Geeksphone. Along with the PrivatOS, built on Android, the phone comes with a suite of Silent Circle apps, including Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Contacts; anonymous search, private browsing and VPN from Disconnect. SpiderOak provides a secure cloud file storage and the Blackphone ships with a remote-wipe and device recovery tool.

LG was on hand to promote its new G Flex, which has a 6.0” curved OLED screen, that while not flexible, does have a shape that fits well into the palm of a hand. The big screen provides an impressive panoramic view, while minimizing glare.

Samsung's Galaxy Fit was among many wearable fitness devices on display at the Mobile World Congress. The Fit has a thin, curved shape meant to follow the wrist; the user navigates menus by swiping horizontally. Along with a heart monitor, the Fit is designed to provide notifications for calls, e-mail and text message. A personal fitness coaching app is an option.

One of the most surprising announcements at the Mobile World Congress came from Mozilla, who plans to launch seven new devices using Firefox OS, including a smartphone -- the ZTE Open C -- priced at $25. The devices are being aimed at people in developing countries.

Chinese company Gionee presented its Elife 5.5, the world's thinnest smartphone. At 5.5 millimeters thick, the phone edges out the 5.75mm Vivo X3. For comparison, the iPhone 5s is 7.6mm thick.

The new Xperia Z2 phone and tablet from Sony are waterproof, come with brighter screens and noise-canceling earbuds.

Sony's SmartBand SWR10 is also waterproof, which makes sense if you plan to sweat while wearing them.

Practically speaking, cars are becoming gadgets. Ford was among several automakers displaying their versions of fully connected Internet cars. These cars work in conjunction with a person's smartphone or work like a smartphone to run apps that connect to the Internet, play music and movies, display GPS navigation and control security features at home, among many other features.