VR headsets could reconstruct facial expressions

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Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are developing technology that would allow users of virtual reality (VR) headsets to see the actual facial expressions of people they interact with.

“It is one of the first devices that will allow us to monitor human facial activity in detail and has a variety of potential applications ranging from [VR] from gaming to healthcare, ”said Professor VP Nguyen, a computer scientist in Texas.

“The project bridges the gap between anatomical and muscular knowledge of the human face and electrical and computer modeling techniques to develop analytical models, hardware and software libraries for the detection of facial-based physiological signals. “

Nguyen is director of the university’s wireless and sensor systems lab, which focuses on building connected systems to monitor and improve human health and the environment. He received a grant of nearly $ 250,000 from the National Science Foundation for the VR Project, which is part of a larger grant with collaborators at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Current VR headsets remain bulky – despite considerable R&D efforts from companies like Facebook to reduce their size, while still maintaining immersion and a crisp image – and block out the majority of the user’s face. Nguyen’s team have created a device that they describe as lightweight, discreet, and privacy-friendly.

“Monitoring the activities of human facial muscles in precise detail and reconstructing facial expressions in 3D are difficult tasks,” said Professor Hong Jiang, chairman of the university’s computer science and engineering department. “This project will advance cutting-edge atrial detection techniques and transfer what is learned across multiple detection modalities.

“The results of this research could enable a wide range of applications, ranging from virtual and augmented reality to emotion recognition in healthcare. “

Scientists hope that the device could have applications in speech therapy in particular. For example, doctors and therapists could use them to work with distant patients who have had strokes or other speech disorders, identifying exactly where muscles are affected and tailoring treatment around that information. . Moreover, it could be used with phones in noisy environments such as subways or bars, where voice recognition technology cannot work well.

Healthcare professionals hope that extended reality technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality could have tremendous benefits for patients with mental illnesses, neurological disorders and developmental disabilities. For example, a mobile virtual reality game could provide warning signs of dementia, while a controlled immersive environment called “The Blue Room” has helped children with autism overcome certain phobias exacerbated by the disease.

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