3-D Avatars for Video Chat
Video-conferencing handsets are taking off, but what about those who shirk the spotlight? Engineers think animated 3-D avatars [.jpg image] may be the answer. “Think of when you’re having a bad hair day,” quips Mike Danielsen of Motorola Labs when asked why he has spent two years developing 3-D animated avatars that can mime a live user’s speech and actions on mobile-phone handsets. Motorola already has phone avatars available in China and Japan, but “they’re highly cartoony,” says Danielson. International competitors include Japan’s Oki Electric Industry, which has developed the FaceCommunicator application for PCs and mobile phones to generate both two- and three-dimensional animated avatars using motion- and voice-tracking as well as key commands.
“What we’re working on in the lab represents the next generation.” His team are using the same animation techniques pioneered by video-game designers and Hollywood’s special-effects masters. Specifically, they’re working with what’s called “morphing mesh,” a digital system of points in space that map out facial features, muscles, and bones. Of course, there are even more practical reasons why Motorola — and a handful of competitors — are taking the design of these synthetic actors seriously. First of all, mobile-phone carriers are always looking for additional features to sell. The growing global market for ring tones — estimated to garner $27.5 billion in revenues by 2009, according to Boston-based research firm Yankee Group — clearly shows that a little fun can translate into a lot of revenue.
In Europe, Germany’s BenQ Siemens, officially launched on Jan. 17, plans to continue developing the animated-avatar technology that was first unveiled by Siemens (SI) at the 2004 CeBIT conference. Full Story.