Pocket Avatars Brings 3D Facial Tracking, Animated Chat to Mobile

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

Texting or sending photos and videos instantly to family, friends and colleagues is one thing, but what if your instant messages were delivered by on your favorite animated characters, like Gumby, Mr. Bill or Emmett from LEGO Movie, in your own voice?

That’s what the new, free Pocket Avatars app by Intel allows you to do, using a mobile device’s front-facing camera to capture a user’s facial expressions, head movements, and voice to create personalized, high quality 3-D video animated messages.

You can create messages that run up to 15 seconds in length then instantly shared with others directly in the app or online via email, text, or social network.

Pocket Avatars can be downloaded to mobile devices from the App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android). Initially released in English for people in the US and Canada, the app will be available in other countries and languages in the coming months.

“Avatars can smile big and small, blink, raise and lower eyebrows, stick out their tongue and blow a kiss. This is all enabled by efficient and robust algorithms that can capture diverse image conditions such as changing light and moving subjects,” said Mike Bell, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Devices Group.

Pocket Avatars is an over-the-top (OTT) messaging app that sends messages via the Internet not over phone carrier wireless network services. It uses innovative and proprietary facial tracking initiated by Intel Labs and developed by Intel’s New Devices Group, along with a dedicated team of algorithm and application developers.

Intel experts in personal computing devices, servers, message delivery, web programming, 3D tracking, modelling, animation, and video rendering all worked together to bring Pocket Avatars to life.

More than 40 avatars are offered at launch through the in-app library and new characters will be introduced regularly. User can choose from iconic pop culture favorites such as Annoying Orange, LEGO characters, Gumby, Mr. Bill, Pokey, the San Diego Chicken, American Greetings Care Bear franchise, animals and people.

Many of the avatars are available for free, others cost just $.99 at time of launch.

You can send a message to anyone, including people who don’t already have the Pocket Avatar app. Message recipients get a link they can click to watch the video in their browser. There, viewers can easily download the app so they can make their own avatar messages.

“This is a new kind of experience,” said Dane Boedigheimer, the creator, producer and voice of YouTube sensation Annoying Orange, which is one of the first avatars to be available in the app.

“Kids always ask to be on an upcoming episode, which is something we’ve done…but this app allows fans to do it in a bigger, fun way. This lets them add their voices and make their own Annoying Orange videos that they can share.”

Other avatars include characters from the smash hit, The LEGO Movie.

“Everyone who has played with LEGO bricks has wanted to be part of the imaginary world, and we saw this as a fun way to let all LEGO fans around the world be a LEGO minifigure!” said Lars Silberbauer, the Global Director of Social Media and Search at the LEGO Group.

OTT messaging traffic is growing significantly, driven by the fact that OTT messaging is very low cost, and in most cases free. Ovum Consulting forecasts that around 70 trillion messages will go through these services this year, compared with 27.5 trillion in 2013. On What’sApp alone, more than 18 billion messages were sent each day in January, according to Ovum.

Boedigheimer of Annoying Orange sees Pocket Avatars as a way for his fans to spread their love for the show and characters all around the world in new ways.

“This really opens things up for us because users can use any language they want,” says Boedigheimer.

Avatars can become a new vehicle for marketing to people who love using their mobile devices to communicate with family and friends.

In a blog post, Bell explained that Intel will continue to refine the app with new features and capabilities. These include a constant stream of new avatars and improved tracking technology with new facial expressions that operate in a broader range of lighting environments.

“The math behind this is scary,” said Bell, during the demonstration, according to Venture Beat. “The algorithms behind here are so good that it’s scary what it can mimic. And we have plans to make it more lifelike,” said Bell.

Josh Ong of The Next Web concluded that “with messaging apps attracting billion-dollar valuations, it’s not out of the question that this could become a substantial revenue generator.”

The element of surprise popped out from much of the early news coverage about Pocket Avatars, which was introduced on June 19 with visual fan far in New York’s Time Square.

That surprise stemmed from Intel’s long heritage as a computer chip maker. With Pocket Avatars, “It’s about the software, not about the hardware,” Bell told The Wall Street Journal.

“We typically think of Intel as a hardware company, a chip-making giant that helps build wearablescable-free laptopssmart baby onesies,” wrote Dana Wollman of Engadget. “Today, though, the company is showing off software for a change.”


Download the Pocket Avatars app here.

Press release and materials here.


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