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Send your avatar to web meetings, online classes

Courtesy of Digital Hollywood University
Application “beCAMing” allows users to attend a web meeting as avatars.

The use of digital avatars in web meetings or online classes is gaining momentum. By utilizing avatars that can express a variety of reactions, teleconference participants can avoid showing their real faces on screen.

The avatars are said to stimulate communication between participants and add a sense of realism to online events.

Digital Hollywood University, which is run by IT firm Digital Hollywood Co., another IT company Kid’sPlates Inc. and PocketRD Inc. — all based in Tokyo — developed beCAMing, an application that allows avatars to be used in web-conferencing systems such as Zoom.

With online classes increasing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some students at the university said they did not want to show their faces on screen.

Courtesy of Toppan Printing Co.
The face and the body of a three-dimensional avatar of a fictitious person created by artificial intelligence

Online classes or meetings can be stressful for participants who are continuously exposing their faces, but having a blank screen because a camera is turned off can also be boring. Therefore, the three entities decided to change the situation with avatars.

In November, they started providing the app to schools, cram schools and other educational institutions. About 120 schools nationwide participated in an explanatory seminar before the service was launched and some have already signed up.

All shapes and sizes

A vibrant scene appeared on the screen during a web conference that utilized the app, with about 10 people participating as animals and human avatars.

The movements of each avatar’s eyes and mouth matched its owner’s. The participants also could express their reactions by using stamps that say “I see” or “Thank you.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The main body of Avatarium

Digital Hollywood executive officer Kazuhiro Iketani’s avatar is an adorable hat-clad cat. Iketani usually speaks fast, but said perhaps because of his avatar he has started speaking slowly in conferences.

“By using avatars, communication can be stimulated while ensuring privacy,” he added.

Realistic three-dimensional avatars can be created in about 10 minutes with the Avatarium, a special body-scanning device developed by PocketRD.

There is also a simplified app to create an avatar by taking a picture of a user’s face with a smartphone, for example.

‘Sense of realism’

“You can create a sense of realism, as if the people themselves were actually appearing in the web conference,” said Atsuya Momikura, the company’s producer.

Digital Hollywood University plans to have students who wish to use the service create realistic avatars and use them in online classes and for other opportunities from spring.

In November, Tokyo-based Toppan Printing Co. also developed a service for creating realistic avatars. The three-dimensional characters can be made with a headshot and a user’s height, weight and other data. An avatar can also be created from a fictional figure made by artificial intelligence.

With the product designed for businesses that develop and offer services in the so-called metaverse, or virtual space, the company aims to achieve sales of about ¥5 billion by fiscal 2023, including orders for related products.