Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Monday, February 21, 2005

100 Mobile Product Ideas...#12...
...Be who you wanna be...

Avatars are machine-representations of humans and they exist in cyberspace. An interesting commercial use is Sitepal, which I find fascinating. You create an avatar who welcomes and assists visitors to your website. Check out their demo - it's impressive. It might take off, but at a much lower price.

Way back in the early 90's, I was conducting research into the use of avatars in mobile communications. I think that the time and technology has arrived to make this idea a reality.

Imagine making a video call, which perhaps you have already tried on one of the 3G carriers, like Three (UK). Personally, I find that as a substitute for ordinary voice calls, the video element is not that exciting or necessary.

However, I think that the use of avatars can make communications more interesting. The first use is to use an avatar as a pseudo-persona. I make a call and talk as normal, but the recipient sees my avatar and watches it speak the words I utter. I had intended that software could build an avatar that is a caricature of the user, so it looks like me at the other end and it mimes to my voice as I speak.

When I first thought of the idea when I was doing the research, the application I had in mind was online multiplayer gaming. You could see the avatars of the other players. It would be possible to represent one's self as any personality and with any voice from either gender. Originally I had thought that users could chose well known personalities, such as film stars, and use these as their avatar forms, including vocal reproduction.

With 2.5 and 3G networks, the possibility of using an avatar exists because of the support for IP-based realtime communications. Avatars could also be used as messaging envoys to speak voicemail messages or text messages using text-to-speech. The TTS engine could use my vocal signature, so that the speech synthesis still sounds like me and not "Johnny Robot."

With real-time control of the avatar, it would also be possible to alter its form during the conversation. I could change my avatar's hair colour and style as often as i liked during the call. I also envisage being able to convey emotion, giving a whole new meaning to smilies and the use of emoticons. Now I can really look angry, or happy, not just iconically. Perhaps the use of video can control the conveyance of emotions. If I really smile, so does my avatar.

Sooner or later, someone is going to implement this. When I did the research, it was mainly to look at compression techniques to convery the speech and avatar control over a low bandwidth pipe. Today, the compression isn't so important and the technology exists to implement this idea commercially. At the time, my academic supervisor suggested that I change research topic, as there was insufficient prior art to ground the research. Over ten years later, research is no longer necessary. It seems that this idea could be implemented and made usable.

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