Professor promotes EmoMask idea – Taipei Times

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  • By Jake Chung / Staff Writer, with CNA

A professor has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to help people express themselves behind masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A project to develop EmoMasks, led by Associate Professor at National Tsing Hua University, Pao Sheng-ying (包 盛 盈), uses AI to recognize and express emotional states in hopes of raising the barrier to such behavior overcome that was created by a state mask mandate.

Standard masks have become the new norm in Taiwan and the world since the COVID-19 outbreak, and while people in Taiwan are more accepting of them, wearing a mask overseas still exudes distance or indifference, Pao said on Sunday.

Citing unspecified research, she said that nonverbal communication, especially between people, relies largely on the muscles of the mouth and nose, which are covered by masks.

After making masks mandatory in almost all settings in Taiwan following a May outbreak of COVID-19, she wondered if there was a way to maintain the appearance of normal interaction while following the rules, along with instructions on how to interact social distancing, called pao.

After discussing her thoughts with Liang Shun-hsun (梁舜勛), a student at the National Taiwan University Department of Mechanical Engineering, the idea led to the development of the EmoMask, Pao added.

The EmoMask is an interactive electronic device that uses speech recognition and sensors to measure emotions and display feelings, semantic animations, or other interactive messages on a display panel, she said.

EmoMasks could be useful in factories, hospitals and service industries, she said.

However, development is still in the preliminary phase and the specialized mask has not yet been developed for commercial use, said Pao.

The design has allowed her to stay in touch with her academic roots – she received her PhD from the MIT Media Lab, a research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and is another step on the path to integrating technology and art, she said : and added that their previous work, Light Byte, was a similar attempt.

Light Byte used a real-time heat sensing algorithm to manipulate wooden panels in an installation to let light into a room in patterns based on user input – usually rough drawings.

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