A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, has adopted FaceFX, a facial animation program used primarily in video game development, to study social interaction among children with autism.
The FaceFX technology synchronizes facial movements on video game character models to spoken dialogue and vocals. FaceFX was recently featured in titles like Fallout 3, Rock Band 2
, and Gears of War 2
University researchers Steve DiPaola, Kyungjae Lee, and Benny Lee are using FaceFX-equipped avatars in interactions among children with autism, to better understand how the brain development disorder affects social behavior. Team leader DiPaola previously designed the facial animation system in EA's The Sims
franchise before being an Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University.
"FaceFX technology is critical to our research teaching children with autism how to communicate." says DiPaola. "The software allows us to create realistic avatars for simulating social interaction."
Fellow researcher Kyungjae Lee feels that the approach has advantages over previous autism-related studies, which used live video footage of human actors. FaceFX avatars are cheaper to create, and can be heavily customized to meet research demands.
The FaceFX-assisted program is still early in development. A pilot test will be conducted in the coming months with assistance from professors at the Simon Fraser University Autism Lab and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.