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Fraunhofer HHI scientists to demo VR telepresence using 3D Body Reconstruction

September 13, 2016 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Science Daily

When science fiction heroes communicate, they don't use landlines or cell phones. The caller simply appears in virtual form in the middle of the room; full sized and three dimensional. For researchers at Fraunhofer, this vision is already within reach: At the trade fairs IFA in Berlin and IBC in Amsterdam they will show a new technology technology called "3D Human Body Reconstruction."

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute, HHI in Berlin have developed a method by which the realistic image of a person can be transmitted in a virtual world; and just like in science fiction movies, the image appears full sized and three dimensional. The image can be viewed from different directions and the viewer can even walk around it -- just like in the movie. Until now, this was not possible; even virtual reality (VR) still has its limits. People can be represented by artificial three-dimensional models (so-called avatars) that can be seen when the viewer puts on VR data goggles. Nevertheless, these artificial figures do not have a lifelike appearance or natural movement. Another option is to play the video image of a person in frontal view in the VR data goggles. However, the viewer cannot walk around the image. As a result, the whole scene looks artificial as one moves through the virtual world. The person always turns his two-dimensional front to the viewer.

20 stereo cameras

In contrast, the HHI researchers have perfected the three-dimensional impression. To do so, they have developed a camera system that films the person. The core of this system is a stereo camera: Just as people do with their two eyes, the camera records the person with two lenses. This stereoscopic vision results in distances being estimated well, because both eyes look at an object from a slightly different angle. The result is a three-dimensional impression. Recording a person in detail from all directions takes more than one camera. "We are currently using more than 20 stereo cameras to map a human," says Oliver Schreer, Head of the Research Group "Immersive Media & Communication" at HHI. Each camera only captures a part of the person. The challenge is to merge the individual camera images together so that a realistic overall picture is produced.

The system includes more than just the camera technology. The researchers have developed algorithms that can quickly extract depth information from the stereoscopic camera images. This is necessary in order to calculate the 3D form of a captured person. The computer calculates a virtual model of the human, which is then transferred into the virtual scene. The cameras perceive the surface shape with many details. In this way even small wrinkles, e.g. on the clothes of the person, can be shown. The model has a natural and realistic appearance.

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