This technology could be the start of a whole new generation of interfaces which make interacting with a computer much more like talking to another human being.
Meet Zoe: a digital talking head which can express human emotions on demand with “unprecedented realism” and could herald a new era of human-computer interaction.
A virtual “talking head” which can express a full range of human emotions and could be used as a digital personal assistant, or to replace texting with “face messaging”, has been developed by researchers.
The lifelike face can display emotions such as happiness, anger, and fear, and changes its voice to suit any feeling the user wants it to simulate. Users can type in any message, specifying the requisite emotion as well, and the face recites the text. According to its designers, it is the most expressive controllable avatar ever created, replicating human emotions with unprecedented realism.
The system, called “Zoe”, is the result of a collaboration between researchers at Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. Students have already spotted a striking resemblance between the disembodied head and Holly, the ship’s computer in the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf.
Appropriately enough, the face is actually that of Zoe Lister, an actress perhaps best-known as Zoe Carpenter in the Channel 4 series, Hollyoaks. To recreate her face and voice, researchers spent several days recording Zoe’s speech and facial expressions. The result is a system that is light enough to work in mobile technology, and could be used as a personal assistant in smartphones, or to “face message” friends.
The framework behind “Zoe” is also a template that, before long, could enable people to upload their own faces and voices – but in a matter of seconds, rather than days. That means that in the future, users will be able to customise and personalise their own, emotionally realistic, digital assistants.
If this can be developed, then a user could, for example, text the message “I’m going to be late” and ask it to set the emotion to “frustrated”. Their friend would then receive a “face message” that looked like the sender, repeating the message in a frustrated way.
The team who created Zoe are currently looking for applications, and are also working with a school for autistic and deaf children, where the technology could be used to help pupils to “read” emotions and lip-read. Ultimately, the system could have multiple uses – including in gaming, in audio-visual books, as a means of delivering online lectures, and in other user interfaces.
“This technology could be the start of a whole new generation of interfaces which make interacting with a computer much more like talking to another human being,” Professor Roberto Cipolla, from the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, said.
“It took us days to create Zoe, because we had to start from scratch and teach the system to understand language and expression. Now that it already understands those things, it shouldn’t be too hard to transfer the same blueprint to a different voice and face.”
As well as being more expressive than any previous system, Zoe is also remarkably data-light. The program used to run her is just tens of megabytes in size, which means that it can be easily incorporated into even the smallest computer devices, including tablets and smartphones.
The Latest Streaming News: Virtual talking head updated minute-by-minute
Bookmark this page and come back often