NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile operator, is demonstrating a prototype pair of glasses with multiple video cameras that scan wearers' faces to accurately portray their expressions online.
The company is demonstrating the glasses at the Ceatec electronics show in Chiba, Japan, with the goal of eventually replacing the fuzzy, two-dimensional avatar images that are common on chat programs today. The glasses use tiny, wide-angle cameras to capture large portions of the face at close range, then send the data over the network, where software then attempts to convert it back to a realistic recreation of the wearer.
In live demonstrations on the show floor, the result was a slightly cartoonish, bloated-looking version of the subject, although subtle changes in the eyes, eyebrows, and overall expression were accurately portrayed. Hair and other features are still not captured by the cameras, so they are filled in automatically by the software, and DoCoMo only showed the system with a single, male model. The researchers designing the system say their intention is to make it as realistic as possible, with the goal of taking it live in the next five to ten years.
"There are many types of avatar, or computer-graphics based real-time communication systems, but this system is completely different to previous systems," said Masaaki Fukumoto, a senior researcher at DoCoMo.
"For example, previous systems just detect the position of the (facial) parts, such as the eye or mouth and so on, but this system actually takes the image of the face and directly transmits it to the receiver side," he said.
The glasses also include a rear-facing camera, to accurately record the wearer's background and send that along with the facial data, as well as cameras that record hand gestures. Fukumoto said they will eventually be wireless and run off of battery power, but the current version has a bulky control unit that sits on the back of the head, which houses several different wire connections.
A mock-up on the Ceatec show floor includes speakers and microphones, and eyepieces that will be used to display augmented reality images to the wearer.
Ceatec, Japan's largest electronics exhibition, runs this week in Makuhari, just outside of Tokyo.