When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took the stage last year to show off a Facebook social VR platform, he expressed himself with an exaggerated set of emotions, created by different voice and body language cues. Compared to sophisticated non-VR face-capture cameras, this was primitive, but there was a good reason for that. Even though emotion is an incredibly important part of virtual presence, it’s tough to read somebody’s expressions when they’re hidden by a VR headset. But neuroscience and computing company MindMaze thinks it has a cheap and easy way to fix that.
The new MindMaze Mask, which was announced today, is a ring of electrodes that can be installed in any VR headset’s foam face mask. When you put the headset on, the mask detects which sensors your skin is touching with a certain pressure, then matches the pattern to one of 10 facial expressions, which an avatar reproduces. There’s also some software-based prediction, which is supposed to reduce lag between your face and your avatar’s. It’s not detecting and mirroring every movement — it’s more like you’re pressing button combinations with your face to call up animations. The example avatars are simple cartoons, but they can look like anything a developer wants.
The idea here isn’t to make a consumer product, but to have manufacturers build these sensors into headsets. MindMaze CEO Tej Tadi says that the company has been talking to several partners, and that headsets ought to be integrating them by the end of the year. That could include anything from niche products like the OSVR HDK2 to any of Microsoft’s new Windows Mixed Reality headsets, or even (although it seems less likely) the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Gear VR.