Virtual girl can read nine emotions

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2010
VIRTUAL EVE: The near-human performance of a virtual teacher called Eve is believed to be a  first in human computer interaction.
VIRTUAL EVE: The near-human performance of a virtual teacher called Eve is believed to be a first in human computer interaction.

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The technology behind an attractive maths teaching avatar could one day be used to detect cancer, dispense health advice and single out serious shoppers in stores.

The "Easy with Eve" avatar, developed to teach maths to primary school students, uses complex algorithms to detect and respond to expressions and movements.

Unitec associate professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh, who led the development of Eve, said that technology had myriad applications. For example, a Unitec/China Medical University project was investigating the technology's potential to detect cancer cells. The Chinese Government had put $180,000 towards the initiative and a provincial government had donated $10,000.

"We're hoping we'll be able to get more and that the New Zealand Government will be supportive," said Dr Sarrafzadeh, who is also working to develop "Dr Eve" – a health advice application.

"If you have a health question then Eve will come up on your monitor and hold a discussion with you and give you some medical advice."

Researchers at Massey University and Unitec were also working together to turn Eve into an intelligent sales assistant that would use customers' facial expressions and gestures captured on a camera to distinguish between serious shoppers and those just browsing, Dr Sarrafzadeh said. "We'd be categorising buyers into four categories and guiding sales staff towards them."

Unitec had a strong screen arts department and was interested to see if dancers could be tracked and virtual dancers created to perform on stage with them.

Also, the motion detection technology could be used to help monitor the elderly in their homes – alerting ambulance services if any sudden or unusual movements were detected.

"There's a whole lot of exciting things that can be done."

Eve had attracted interest from schools worldwide but was still a few years away from making her classroom debut, he said. Eve's vision systems currently only worked in certain light conditions and she spoke only English.

"We've done some work on language translation so hopefully in the next couple of years Eve will be able to speak and understand different languages.

"The system also initially detected six facial expressions; now it detects nine. The character that we had was toylike and only meant for kids ... but now you can select from six different characters – Eve has some sisters."

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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