EmoHeart: Japanese universities develop solution to visualize “human” emotions in virtual worlds

One major problem that leads to a low level of identification with avatars in virtual worlds is the lack of visualization of emotions carried in typed messages (through which users usually communicate). In Second Life, for example, users can choose between a number of emotions to be displayed but have to time them manually, disconnecting users and their avatars.
But now Alena Neviarouskaya, a graduate student in Ishizuka Lab at the University of Tokyo (one of Japan’s finest universities), has apparently made a big step forward in overcoming this drawback. In a joint research project with the Prendinger Lab at National Institute of Informatics (NII) in Tokyo, she almost single-handedly developed EmoHeart, an application that makes it possible for avatars in virtual worlds to express “human” emotions.
Once selected (you can find the EmoHeart in Second Life here), a virtual object in the form of a stylized heart appears on the avatar’s chest. When the user types in a message in Second Life’s chat channel that says “I have always loved you.”, for example, the EmoHeart system parses the sentence, detects the emotion contained therein and visually expresses it both in the avatar’s face and the heart symbol’s texture. As a result, virtual world users can communicate in a more “realistic” and direct way.
While the parsing system used in EmoHeart is open source (and developed in Stanford), EmoHeart’s core element, the so-called Affect Analysis Model, is a brain child of Neviarouskaya herself. Emotions detected in messages are grouped in 10 different categories, ranging from neutral to angry or sad. EmoHeart is even able to analyze the degree of emotional intensity in a written message.
See the video below for a demonstration of the application (more videos can be found here). People interested in EmoHeart might also want to check out NII’s official project site or download the paper it’s based on [PDF].
Through its so-called Global Lab, the NII research group led by professor Helmut Prendinger is actually very active in doing research and providing practical solutions regarding virtual worlds. You can check out all their current projects here.

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