Face copier promises more puppet reality

June 23, 1995

The facial expressions of puppets could be much more lifelike as a result of work by a final-year design student at Loughborough University.

Richard Widgery has developed a contraption which fits to a human head and measures the changes in a face when it smiles, frowns or speaks, transmitting the information to a puppet face to behave in the same way.

The contraption works by detecting how far parts of the face, such as the tip of the lip, are from a sensor. There are also two eyebrow sensors, infra-red sensors which notice when the mouth is pulled into an "oo" or "ee" noise, and a sensor that calculates where the jaw is in three-dimensional space.

Mr Widgery says that the system could lead to a puppet being operated by two people: an actor, whose voice is heard and whose expressions are relayed to the puppet, and a puppeteer, who has overall control of the puppet.

He developed the puppet system by working with Jim Henson's Creature Shops, famous for the Muppets. His work was on show at the end of year exhibition for students on industrial design and technology and industrial design and technology with education degrees. Also on display were designs by students sent by Oxfam to El Salvador to teach craftspeople new designs that may sell better back in the West.

Amy Walden said: "The group in El Salvodor requested it themselves. I designed lighting and compact disc storage racks that were based on Maya culture."

Michelle Harker exhibited a tent intruder alarm. Backpackers leave thousands of pounds-worth of equipment in their tents each year, she said. Her system is an infra-red detector which gives off a shrill sound when someone enters the tent if they do not have a key with which to switch it off.

The electronics were complicated because she had to ensure that the alarm would not be triggered by wind, or by a tent heating up inside.

Also on display were a waterless toilet, a wheelchair that converts to sports mode and a bullet and stab-proof jacket for policemen.

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