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Making computers smarter—with TikTok dance videos

TikTok’s dance videos captured a lot of hungry fans during the Covid-19 lockdown. But U of M researcher Yasamin Jafarian has found a deeper purpose for viral phenomena.

Last year, Jafarian, a doctoral student in computer science and engineering, tapped into videos for the frame-by-frame building blocks he used to create the real-life 3D avatar. people. In search of many 3D avatars today that are cartoonish, he wants to replace them by using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to create more realistic avatars to use in future virtual reality settings.

To that end, he trained AI computers to understand visual data through images and video.

Going to Hollywood is a better one?

The film industry creates life-like avatars for film or video games through CGI (computer-generated imagery). But the industry is able to take thousands of shots of performers.

“The problem with film technology is that it’s not accessible to everyone,” Jafarian said. “I want to create the same opportunity for the average person so they can just use their phone camera and they can create a 3D avatar of their own.”

Jafarian aims to design an algorithm that only takes a photo or video of a person to create a realistic avatar. That takes a lot of data in the videos to “train” the algorithm. TikTok dance videos — which usually feature only one person, showing the full length of their body in multiple poses — are filled with charge.

Real advances in virtual reality

After watching about 1,000 TikTok videos, Jafarian selected 340 for his dataset, every 10-15 seconds in length. At 30 frames per second, that came to over 100,000 pictures of people dancing.

So far, he has successfully used his algorithm to create a 3D avatar of a person from a frontal perspective. He published his work and won a Best Paper Honorable Mention Award at the 2021 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition.

Jafarian plans to continue refining the algorithm until it can create an entire human body using just a few looks. He hopes that real people will one day use technology to interact with virtual online social spaces, and not just through Zoom.

“We can have virtual environments, using VR goggles like Oculus, for example, where we can see and interact with each other,” he said. “If we can make digital avatars realistic, it will make interactions deeper and more interesting.”

Her research can also help all of us — that is, our avatars — try on clothes virtually, reducing trips to the store.

Read and watch a video on the original story site of the College of Science and Engineering.

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