Virtual reality as a concept puts a user into a digital world. That is to say that the user is inserted into the virtual environment in a very literal sense, like in the movie Tron. However, in practical terms, this insertion is limited. The software can only represent the user in very simple and predefined ways. For example, in a social situation within a virtual reality, users are limited by the programming as to what emotions they can have their avatar convey. However, there is a company that is looking to change that.

MindMaze, a medical device manufacturer, has developed a VR add-on it calls the Mask. The device is a foam insert that VR producers can add to their headsets. According to Engadget, the foam houses eight sensors capable of reading “electrical impulses and muscle activity from your face.” A machine-learning algorithm can then interpret these signals and transform them into facial expressions on an in-game avatar.

In a demonstration, MindMaze showed Engadget how the device worked. A representative of the company donned a clear headset with the Mask installed and made several facial gestures which were then shown expressed on a cartoon avatar on a monitor. The device was able to interpret various facial movements in almost real-time.

There is no release date set for the device yet, but the company says that it is working on creating a software development kit that studios can use to integrate the Mask into their games. They point out that since the Mask is actually interpreting facial gestures that there are other applications other than just translating the signals into in-game expressions.

Imagine single-player games where NPCs react to your facial gestures. A creative developer could even figure out a way to incorporate specific facial movements into commands, essentially turning your face into another set of controls.

Prototypes of body sensing devices that translate your full body movements into the virtual world have already been created. Adding the Mask to the mix means we are that much closer to digitizing ourselves into a virtual world, just like Kevin Flynn did in Tron, but without having to rip our bodies apart at the molecular level.

Image credit Engadget