The best VR experiences let users use their real-life bodies to maneuver in the virtual world. MindMaze wants to extend that immersion to include the user's facial expressions: Its latest product, Mask, is a headset insert that tracks the wearer's expressions and transmits them to their VR avatar.
That means the wearer can use their actual faces to emote in VR, which adds layers of personalization, emotion and humanization to the experience. This ability has a great deal of potential for social media and gaming applications.
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It's not the first time that VR companies have eyed the importance of personal expression in VR – in fact, Mark Zuckerberg demoed smiling and frowning avatars onstage at the Oculus Connect 3 conference last October. But if MindMaze's claims are to be believed, it is close to realizing this goal.
The Mask is a foam insert that connects to a pre-existing VR headset. It tracks the user's face using foam electrodes that detect facial electrical impulses, which are then analyzed with software algorithms that create a neural signature of the individual's expressions, without the need for calibration.
MindMaze claims that its advanced machine learning and biosignal processing can decode and translate real-life expressions tens of milliseconds before they actually appear on the user's face. This early detection supposedly allows real-time replication of the wearer's expression on the avatar.
The Mask product is available now, but only to enterprise partners. MindMaze is evidently hoping that its technology gets picked up by VR's major players, such as Oculus (creator of the Rift) and HTC/Valve (the partners behind the HTC Vive).
Product page: MindMazeView gallery - 3 images