Microsoft Teams gets animated avatars that show facial expressions

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Microsoft is going to bring certain parts of the mixed reality platform Mesh to Teams. For example, Teams users should be able to set up animated avatars that mimic facial expressions based on the user’s voice by early next year.

The avatars fall under Mesh for Teams and allow users to create a custom avatar to use in Teams meetings. This avatar can then replace the static photo or video stream that users can now set. It appears that users will be able to customize the face, hairstyle and clothing of the avatar, which is viewed from shoulder height.

Microsoft uses ‘audio cues’ with the avatars to make the avatar’s face move. The company says it uses that audio to show facial expressions. Users can also choose their own animations that can display additional facial expressions. Later, Microsoft also wants to enable the user’s camera to track mouth and head movements, in order to improve the avatar’s movements.

The Mesh avatars work with laptops, smartphones, VR headsets and HoloLens headsets. The idea is that users can be virtually present in a meeting during a meeting, so that other users can get the impression that they are video calling with a ‘real’ person, for example through facial expressions. According to Microsoft, this is useful for people who are “tired” from long video calling sessions, or for other reasons don’t feel like appearing in front of the camera.

These avatars are not limited to 2D video calling streams, but can also be used in ‘virtual spaces’. Microsoft calls these spaces metaverses, and says users can meet here, collaborate on things like electric cars or a building design, or have other social interactions. The fact that Microsoft calls this concept metaverses is striking; other companies, such as Meta, see the metaverse as an open virtual platform that is also linked to gaming, for example, and is not managed by a single company. For now, Microsoft has not disclosed integrations with other metaverse platforms, such as Meta’s.

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