Home Articles Facts Games Poems & Quotes
Virtual You

Think you must dress for success even in the bold new world of telecommuting? Maybe not, even if your employer has a videophone to display your image.

Courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Labratory managed by CalTech.


A digital human-image animation computer system under development at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., can use the smallest units of speech, called phonemes, to manipulate a person's facial movements in an image. The system is driven by language rather than by manual animation controls. While development is in the early stages at this point, the eventual result will be photo-realistic animation of a person speaking.

"This is voice-driven, so the image morphs in response to a voice or equivalent input," said principal investigator John Wright of JPL. "Real-time animation is a key step in our development process. Unlike cartoon morphs, this technology uses video and facial movements of real people as its building blocks."

The system, called Digital Personnel, will make it possible to use an image of any human face and make it appear to be speaking naturally. With a videophone, it would be possible to have the option of always portraying the image you wish - no more "bad hair days." or having to wear an oscar dress to impress! Instead, you can appear exactly how you want to appear.A celebrity figure appearing to speak might be another option for an image.

Communication capabilities are being designed for this technology to allow Digital Personnel to work efficiently over telephone as well as data lines. Lower bandwith - the rate of data transmission, or bits per second -- will be used by this system compared to the bandwidth required to transmit real video images. This will allow broader use of the technology while also preserving the appearance of reality in the speaking facial image.


A person's face being manipulated by Digital Personnel.

"This is a broad-based consumer application," said Jerry Ruddle, G-Tec's vice president for marketing. "The main advantage of this technology is that it produces very realistic animations of people speaking. Because it uses images of actual individuals, the Digital Personnel technology retains the full detail of the face, including subtle shading and shadowing."

The lab "came to us because they saw a good fit," Ruddle said. "Their interest is to see us successfully commercialize the technology," which uses a computer video system that takes dozens of snapshots of a person speaking and breaks the images down to match the sounds that make up whole words.

The technology can then animate a two-dimensional image of any human face so it appears to be speaking naturally. To a consumer encountering a digital person, it would seem more like a face-to-face conversation than an audio-only exchange.

"Digital Personnel is next-generation technology using voice-driven animation of real human images," said Jerry Ruddle, vice president of sales and marketing at Graphco Technologies, Inc., Newtown, Penn. "It will enable us to provide virtual personnel for commercial applications in numerous markets. Web- based customer support, with user-friendly speaking interfaces, is an important application for this technology. Along with other uses for human-like web applications, we project video telephones, broadcasting, distance learning, video games, and motion pictures will also create significant demand for this human-machine interface technology."

One application of the system might be an on-line help desk - a live voice projecting through a digital person would assist the user. The real support representative, while speaking, could leaf through documents with his or her head down. The web image would be the digital person looking at and "speaking" directly to the user.

Digital Personnel could also enhance e-commerce by providing a user-friendly presence. Product demonstration, promotion and celebrity representation interaction would be possible with on- line customers.


The system uses phonemes to mainpulate facial movements.

"We are excited about the acquisition of this technology and about our collaboration with JPL on future development," said Cristian Ivanescu, chairman and CEO of Graphco Technologies, Inc. "The Digital Personnel technology complements our market offerings for secure database and information-sharing systems for law enforcement, government and industry."

Industry experts said virtual people are a good idea, especially for e-commerce applications. But the technology is still in its infancy and could need a lot of refinement.

"The character should be engaging," said Norman Badler, a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor. "It should vary. If every time you open the Web page, the character does the same thing, you're going to hate it.

"People are fond of hating the Microsoft paper clip [a cartoon character that pops up on the screen to offer technical support in software such as Microsoft Word]. So the challenge with these Web-based characters is to provide human variety. . . . It's the kind of world where we don't have a lot of hard data on what people like."

The main advantage of this technology is that it produces very realistic animations of people speaking. Because it uses images of actual individuals, the Digital Personnel technology retains the full detail of the face, including subtle shading and shadowing. Because the technology is based on 2-D images versus 3-D modeling, it will enable individuals to create their Digital Personnel personae with a relatively simple enrollment process that takes just a few minutes of time.

Graphco Technologies, Inc., has acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to Digital Personnel, a patent pending technology that makes it possible to synthesize photo-realistic talking individuals for e-commerce and e-support. The license was originally issued by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, to Digital Personnel, Inc., a subsidiary of UTEK Corp., Plant City, Fla. Digital Personnel, Inc., was acquired by Graphco Technologies, Inc., earlier this year from UTEK Corp. and Caltech. Graphco Technologies, Inc. develops and markets secure database and secure communications systems.


Home   l  Biology   l  Physics   l  Planetary Science   l  Technology   l  Space

First Science 2014