Researchers at Bournemouth University have developed software that changes a photo of a person’s face to create emoticons for instant messaging.

The idea is that emoticons that show people’s facial expressions will be enriching to the chat experience. The software can at the moment only recreate six motions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.

After a neutral-expression photograph has been uploaded, the user marks points on it to indicate eyebrows, eyes, and mouth. Then the program can morph those points to show different emotions.

The software has about a 60% success rate at showing the emotions, according to a test group of 35 volunteers. One of the creators of the system, Anthony Boucouvalas, believes this is good enough to already be employed in instant messaging.

The researchers have plans to match the morphing software with words so that it can interpret a chat and automatically select the right emoticon.


New Scientist Tech