CMU researchers create a huge dome that can read body language


by John Biggs

The Panoptic Studio is a new body scanner created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University that will be used to understand body language in real situations. The scanner, which looks like something Doc Brown would stick Marty in to prevent him from committing fratricide, creates hundreds of videos of participants inside the massive dome interacting, talking, and arguing. The team has even released code to help programmers understand body positions in real time.

The dome contains 480 VGA cameras and 31 HD cameras as well as 10 Kinect sensors. It can create wireframe models of participants inside the dome. Why? To show computers what we are thinking.

“We communicate almost as much with the movement of our bodies as we do with our voice,” said associate professor Yaser Sheikh. “But computers are more or less blind to it.”

In the video below the researchers scanned a group haggling over an object. The computer can look at the various hand and head positions and, potentially, the verbal communication, and begin to understand when two people are angry, happy, or argumentative. It will also let the computer recognize poses including pointing which means you can point to an object and the system will know what you’re talking about.

Interestingly the system can also be used to help patients with autism and dyslexia by decoding their actions in real time. Finally a system like this can be used in sports by scanning multiple participants on a playing field and see where every player was at any one time.


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