Digital doubles: Researchers create accurate 3D avatars from smartphone selfies

It’s now possible to reproduce someone’s head, digitally, using no more than a smartphone camera and an algorithm.

Researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, created the algorithm which will one day be able to replicate a person’s whole body digitally.

They say the mapping tool will be able to be used to create avatars for gaming, virtual reality, video conferences and also potentially in some medical situations as well.

“We wanted the process to be fast and easy: all you have to do is take a video of yourself and then snap a few more shots to get facial expressions, and our algorithm does the rest,” said researcher Alexandru Ichim.

“The goal was to make the process accessible to anyone with a smartphone, even an old model, as long as it can take video,” said the researcher.

The set-up works by taking a video around a person’s head, along with some still images of their face, the algorithm created is then able create a virtual 3D version of what has been captured.

They say that the digital double can be shown on a screen and animated in real time using a video camera that follows the movements of the person being created.

The researchers say that for this sort of technology to ever be used in a real-world scenario, they needed to be able to get the technology to work with low quality images. These could be ones that are blurry, poorly lit, or a combination of factors.

And, as with almost everything, the first impression of the technology will lead to a person not using the technology again.

“A small detail will turn people off immediately,” said Ichim. “The avatar has to have the right facial geometry and reproduce the texture, color and details like face wrinkles.”

Images courtesy of EPFL

Images courtesy of EPFL

The technology still has a little way to go, however, as generic teeth, ears, and hair styles are slapped onto the 3D faces at the moment.

Creating individual textures for a persons’ hair is still too challenging for the technology to be able to create in a short amount of time.

The researchers’ paper: Dynamic 3D avatar creation from hand-held video input, can be found here.

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