Today’s Solutions: June 01, 2023

Like it or not, humans are spending more and more time interacting with each other using digital technology.  This can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication and other feelings of isolation as our daily lives are more enmeshed in keyboards, screens and simple audio.  This is one reason virtual reality (VR) is getting lots of attention.

With the rise of VR, avatars (image icons that we can choose to represent us digitally) are becoming more important. From video games to conferences, online meeting spaces are the norm thanks to a push from the pandemic. More realistic avatars might help us connect in these new digital worlds. Ones that can move and talk like us, being able to display emotion and behavior that convey the true personality of the human behind the screen.

A study, from ETH Zurich, has helped forward this international effort by creating a computer program that makes avatars more human-like than ever. Before this study, modeling a human being in detail, including nuances such as shadows and wrinkles, was a difficult task to achieve.

Observing just a few human poses taken from 3D scans of real people, the team built an algorithm to take in the template of the human and their motions. The results from this were outstanding and acrobatic movements such as a somersault and dance moves were able to be smoothly carried out.

Even though this study hugely forwards the effort for photorealistic avatars, the algorithm is not quite ready to be personalized. The group hopes to develop the model to be able to create new identities with realistic faces.

How can this technology help us?

The applications of this work span far and wide. For example, more realistic avatars could lead to more success in VR therapy sessions, decrease loneliness for those who are isolated, for example: older adults who live alone, people isolated from illness, and people in prison who do not have an opportunity to visit the outside world. Through more authentic experiences online, humans could feel more connected, and alleviate some of the alienation inherent in digital environments.  We still think IRL (in real life) is the best way to relate, but as the “metaverse” arrives, with a true to life avatar at least we might be able to share a realistic smile.

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