If a new webcam technology from Microsoft get the go-ahead, then instant messaging could get a whole lot more interesting.
Currently under development at the Microsoft research labs in Cambridge, England, the new webcam, i2i consists of two lenses, which carefully follows an individual's movement. Using an exclusively developed algorithm to cleverly blend what each lens is seeing, resulting in the creation of an accurate stereo "cylopean" image.
All very technical, but for the 18.5 million people (source Microsoft) who regularly use webcams while they are using instant messengers, i2i means that it will appear as if users are looking into each others eyes.
Antonio Criminisi, lead researcher of Microsoft's Machine Learning and Perception Group, said.
"We were able to come up with an algorithm that was able to take two images and capture a corresponding map in 3D. Using this powerful technology, we can now synthetically create an image as if the person is looking straight into your eyes."
According to Dr Criminisi, the biggest challenge for the backroom boys at Microsoft was in calculating how the visual brain works. In particular, how it sees and sorts out colors, shapes and distances.
"Essentially, what we have done is replace human eyes with cameras and the human brain with a computer."
The real magic behind this technology is the newly developed stereo algorithm, which makes it possible to accurately reconstruct a 3D, geometric image in real time and on a standard computer. Fundamentally, this is the same technology which was used to recreate the stunning 3D images of the Martian surface, which were beamed back by the NASA rover.
With the ability to generate realistic looking background images in order that users can pretend they are somewhere other than where they really are! Commenting, Dr Criminisi said.
"This is important for privacy, as I may not want you to see how untidy my bedroom is."
A feature likely to capture the teens market is that of Smart Icons. Instead of typing in the usual pictorial emotion e.g. :) i2i can superimpose free floating, 3D ones which can then be instructed to float freely around a person's head or anywhere else for that matter.
While Dr Criminisi admits there are still issues to iron out before the project is passed on to Microsoft Development, he is pleased with what has been achieved in under two years. Dr Criminisi's team is already experimenting with code which enables users to create their own wrap-around avatar, 3D face and then have it move as if it were their own.
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