Hao Li’s Cool AR “For Meetings”

Hao Li of USC is making a bit of buzz with his Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality developments.

Li is quite interested in the physical and virtual, and has been messing around with Oculus and other technologies.

His latest thing is a cool combination of VR goggles with real time scanning of your eyes and the rest of your face, i.e., your mouth and lips. The idea is to capture the facial expression and project it into the VR scene, so that an avatar can precisely mimic your motions. I.e., when you talk or smile or whatever, the avatar does exactly the same expression. (The video makes this clearer.)

What is this for? One idea is for “face-to-face” meetings in a virtual space. As their press release suggests, “what if you could show up to the next meeting as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, the Night King from Game of Thrones or a talking pizza?

This is pretty neat, and a step up from the earlier work from the HITLab (NZ, and Washington), which was doing stuff like this a decade ago and more. One of the more memorable demos from Sensei Mark Billinghurst and Co was an AR Halloween party: the partiers wear AR goggles and each pastes a marker on their forehead. The AR system projects different masks over each of our heads. (It’s kind of like liar’s poker: everyone by me can see my costume!) Here is a video from 2007, much of the work dates from several years earlier (YouTube didn’t really exist before 2006.)

Li’s stuff is fancier, though I’m not sure it is better. Do I want my “mask” to reveal my facial expressions, or do I want it to conceal them? Sometimes, I want the latter, no? As Li’s  own press release says, “even if you’re an orc, your co-workers will still see you rolling your eyes in total boredom during the meeting.” Which is kind of bogus, IMO.

Furthermore, it isn’t obvious to me that “meetings” are a particularly good use for this technology. Aside from the question of whether I want to reveal myself, I don’t see how dinking around with cosplay will make meetings better.

After all, when people complain about meetings, they generally don’t complain that “the meeting room didn’t have dragons and unicorns in it”. Mostly people would like meetings to focus on the topic and get over quickly. Making them “fun” is really the wrong idea from that point of view.

Li’s stuff is undeniably awesome, and is a great thing to play around with. But he needs to come up with a better cover story, because the “better meetings thing” just isn’t going to fly!


  1. Daniel Druhora, Who wants to show up as Gandalf at their next meeting?, in USCNews. 2016. http://news.usc.edu/109307/who-wants-to-show-up-as-gandalf-at-their-next-meeting/

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