Behavioural scientists to create first research-quality simulated human face with Silicon Graphics Onyx4 visualization system

Mountain View 22 November 2004With a wink of the eye or an arch of the eyebrow, what is that intriguing stranger telling you? Through the use of Silicon Graphics' advanced visualization technology, the answers to these and other questions of non-verbal communications may be uncovered with unusual precision by Ontario, Canada-based researchers at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, in collaboration with the University of Toronto and Queens University. Using a Silicon Graphics Onyx4 UltimateVision system, these scientists are in the process of creating the first research-quality simulated human face, whose features can be controlled by a mouse right down to a Mona Lisa smile. The project will help isolate facial patterns humans routinely use to communicate, and do so with more scientific rigour than any real human being could muster.


"It's one thing to simulate a human being for a movie like Toy Story, but quite another to do so in a verifiable research setting that meets the demands of psychologists and linguists", stated Avrim Katzman, director of the Visualization Design Institute, which purchased the Onyx4 system for the project. Avrim Katzman's group is part of the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

Avrim Katzman likens the research to what geneticists do in isolating the function of a single gene by eliminating that gene and growing a lab animal without it. With the Onyx4 system, researchers will be able to isolate the effects of a raised eyebrow, a flared nostril, or a wink of the eye to determine how each human gesture—viewed strictly on its own, is interpreted by a human subject. Among the benefits of attaining a complete understanding of what each facial motion conveys, is the ability to better understand people who may experience challenges in communicating, such as those affected by autism.

Creating a truly interactive human face will not be easy. The researchers will begin by using a 3D scanner to capture an actual human face, a process commonly used in the film industry, in which a model's physical characteristics are measured with laser beams and recorded in digital form. Data on everything from motion to musculature will be added to create the finished interactive model, which can be modified with a mouse.

The challenge of getting the simulated face to work in real time will also require the heavy duty graphics processing associated with more conventional 3D projects, including automobile design, molecular modelling, and weather prediction. The Silicon Graphics Onyx4 UltimateVision family offers the visualization power of up to 32 tightly coupled graphics processors, which was previously accessible only to major facilities with large research budgets, to organisations with very modest budgets.

"Silicon Graphics Onyx is the absolute ultimate in visualization, providing the best graphics performance on any platform", stated Avrim Katzman. "Nothing else compares." Avrim Katzman has employed SGI hardware in both teaching and research for the last 20 years.

The Silicon Graphics Onyx4 UltimateVision Family transforms data into knowledge in an eye blink, affording users a competitive advantage in environments where processing data faster is a matter of survival. Powerful yet affordable, the system handles massive data sets, enabling researchers, scientists and developers to see and manipulate their results in a highly interactive environment. Based on the award-winning SGI NUMAflex architecture, which provides independent scaling for the CPU, memory, storage, I/O, and visualization subsystems, Onyx4 UltimateVision solutions can be configured to meet the needs of a single user or an entire team.

Founded in 1967, the Sheridan Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning today serves close to 15.000 full-time students at its campuses in Oakville and Brampton, Ontario. Sheridan offers an innovative learning environment celebrated for academic excellence, applied research and creativity. Programme options range from one-year certificates to four-year Bachelor's degrees, in the arts, business, community and liberal studies, and applied computing and engineering sciences. With more than 40 percent of its programme designated as "mobile", Sheridan is an acknowledged leader among Canadian post-secondary institutions in the successful integration of laptop technology into the teaching/learning experience.

Leslie Versweyveld

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