On Thursday, Intel introduced Pocket Avatars, a free over-the-top (OTT) chat client for Android and iOS that uses the front-facing camera on a phone or tablet to capture the user's facial expressions, head movements and voice. This information is used to animate 3D avatar characters within instant messages.
"Proprietary facial gesture software used by the app is based on years of research by the Intel Labs," states the fact sheet. "It is also the result of collaboration between Intel experts in clients, servers, message delivery, web programming, 3D tracking, modeling, animation, and video rendering, who came together to enable this unique experience."
To create an avatar message, the user selects an avatar from the library, points the camera at his/her face, and then begins talking. The avatar reflects the user's facial expressions in real time, whether it's raising an eyebrow, nodding or turning his/her head. Each instant message can be 15 seconds long, and individuals will have the ability to review the message before sending it off to the recipient.
The company reports that more than 40 avatars will be released at launch through the in-app library. Many avatars will be free while others will cost a mere dollar at the time of launch. Brands and companies that are offering avatars in Intel's new client include American Greetings' Care Bear franchise, Annoying Orange, Gumby and Pokey, The Jim Henson Company, the LEGO Group, Mr. Bill and the San Diego Chicken.
Don't want to use an avatar? Users will have the ability to send text-only instant messages.
Reuters adds that the new instant message app was released by Mike Bell, an Intel senior executive. He said that the app is a way to demonstrate Intel's facial tracking technology, which may appear in future Intel-based platforms such as tablets and laptops.
"Rather than let it sit in a lab and languish, we thought 'wouldn't it be cool to show people,'" Bell said. "It's fun and easy to explain what it does, but it's actually pretty complex behind the scenes."
In addition to adding more avatars to play with, Intel will continue to improve the facial tracking technology with new facial expressions that can be captured in a broader range of lighting environments.
The new app for Android and iOS looks rather fun to use, but it remains to be seen if customers actually flock to the service. Pocket Avatars has a unique twist in the overall instant messaging scheme, but there are plenty of heavy hitters out on the market, such as Facebook Chat and Kik, that have a huge install base already. Facebook, for one, will be hard to tackle.