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." 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.
"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.
"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."
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.
Pictures can be found at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/pictures/tech/digitalpersonnel.
JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech.
Note to Editors: This technology will be demonstrated for the media at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, on June 13 at 10 a.m. PDT. The event will not be carried on NASA TV. Please notify the JPL Media Relations Office, 818-354-5011, if you plan to attend.
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Carolina Martinez, (818) 354-9382