Avatars give 'life' to audioconferences

One of the more eye-catching displays in BT's technology showcase was subsidiary Btexact's answer to the cost and inconvenience of videoconferencing.

One of the more eye-catching displays in BT's technology showcase was subsidiary Btexact's answer to the cost and inconvenience of videoconferencing.

Instead of putting a speaker's live image on a screen through a camera, Btexact creates a digital simulation, or "avatar", of the person, by scanning them once only in a special camera booth.

Shots are taken from several angles and a 3D model built which can be fully articulated, so the speaker's gestures can be represented on the screen. These simulated movements can either be triggered by the speaker or an assistant pressing buttons, says Btexact spokesman Paul Bowman. At some future stage a sensor could be devised that would allow bodily movements to be transmitted directly to the screen avatar.

The synthesised people distincly lack facial expression; the face is a one-time created imaged. Bowman concedes that limits the avatar's ability to convey mood. The technique of "audiographic conferencing" would considerably reduce the bandwidth required for transmission, as well as equipment costs, he says.

"It won't replace videoconferencing," he says, "but it's the icing on the cake for an audioconference."

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