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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Taps Performance Capture Tech to Elevate Effects

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Alita: Battle Angel is a thrilling mix of powerful cyborgs, post-apocalyptic cities, and gory fights. The sci-fi movie’s action sequences are courtesy of an advanced innovation: performance capture technology.

The futuristic flick, which hits theaters on Feb. 14, follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), an abandoned cyborg who becomes a fierce warrior to fight corrupt forces. This plot would be hard to accomplish with basic animation, however, performance capture technology enabled the movie’s team to generate lifelike special effects, PCMag reported.

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“This is the tech we’ve been developing. In an earlier test shoot, for [a movie that never got made, based on the novel] Brother Termite, when aliens were arriving, we had an actor perform with an umbrella rig around his head—12 cameras—everywhere,” Jon Landau, the producer of the film, told PCMag. “We saw a future where we would use that facial performance capture to drive performance rather than animating it.”

To make this digital vision possible, Alita: Battle Angel’s team partnered with Weta Digital, a visual effects company based in New Zealand. Unlike other animation systems, this performance capture technology doesn’t interfere with actors’ performances.

Rosa Salazar as Alita in ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (Photo Credit: PCMag)

“The giant system [we have today], when it loses a data point, it’s still able to solve for the skeleton and what the muscles do,” Landau added. “[In our partnership with] Weta Digital … we’re now [able] to create Salazar’s performance from the inside, driving the performance from a muscle base—not putting a mask on the actor through animation—to make sure we are living up to the performance that Salazar is giving us.”

According to Weta Digital, performance capture technology notes details of an actor’s face performance, analyzes how their muscles move, and then maps these motions onto a virtual character. (For example, see Salazar above with dots on her face during the filming process.) What makes this technology cool is that it provides animated figures with human-like reactions, so directors can keep a good shooting flow without stopping to map every facial movement.

“I’m pretty technically proficient and I usually do my own visual effects supervisor role, but now I get to geek out with [Weta Digital],” Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel’s director, told PCMag. “We can take it to another level having them and their knowledge.”

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Tokyo Introduces Support Robots for 2020 Olympics

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Human athletes won’t be the only spectacles at next summer’s Olympic Games.

As part of the aptly named Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, the organizing committee introduced a team of androids designed to assist disabled fans at the sporting extravaganza.

Olympic sponsor Toyota is contributing the Human Support Robot (HSR) and Delivery Support Robot (DSR), which will roam the National Stadium, carrying food and other goods, guiding people to their seats, and providing event information.

Human Support Robot (HSR), developed by Toyota Motor Corporation (via Tokyo 2020)

“We believe that the robots will help spectators in wheelchairs to enjoy watching the events without any restrictions, to soak up the atmosphere inside stadiums, and to feel the excitement of sport,” Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center, said in a statement.

Officials plan to deploy up to 16 HSRs and five DSRs, as reported by the Associated Press.

Delivery Support Robot (DSR), developed by Toyota Motor Corporation (via Tokyo 2020)

Panasonic, also a major sponsor, will provide 20 of its Power Assist Suits, used to support the wearer’s back and hips while carrying or lifting heavy objects—like, say, guest luggage.

“We strongly believe that our robot technology … will be of use to all people regardless of impairments, and to society in general, becoming a legacy for future generations,” according to Panasonic Executive Officer Masahiro Ido.

Panasonic’s Power Assist Suits come in handy when handling heavy luggage (via Tokyo 2020)

While these bots will be deployed in specific roles during the Games, the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project team hopes this international stage will help showcase their potential for wider applications in everyday life.

“The Tokyo 2020 Games are a unique opportunity for us to display Japanese robot technology,” Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, said in a statement.

“This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people,” he continued. “So there will be not only sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to, as well.”

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AI Polygraph Is Better At Detecting Lies Than You

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Some people are natural liars, while others have no poker face. But it doesn’t take much to fool someone in blind computer conversations.

In an attempt to remove those blinders, Florida State University researcher Shuyuan Ho has developed the first online polygraph test.

“You could use it for online dating, Facebook, Twitter—the applications are endless,” Ho, an associate professor in the College of Communication and Information, said in a statement. “I think the future is unlimited for an online polygraph system.”

Imagine a future where technology can automatically identify liars and truth-tellers based on the words they type in electronic messages.

In a study published by the journal Computer in Human Behavior, Ho detailed the findings of an online game created to measure truthful and deceptive communication between people.

Players were randomly assigned the role of “Saint” or “Sinner,” then left to have a computerized chat. Researchers, meanwhile, followed along, using machine learning tech to scrutinize patterns of words and writing.

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Just as physical cues provide context, so, too, do language-action cues in written text.

Lying sinners were less expressive but used more ornamental words, displayed more negative emotions, and appeared anxious when communicating with truth-tellers.

Conversely, saints tended toward speculation, taking longer to respond to inquiries; sincere players provided more reasoned ideas and expressed more reflective thinking, according to the study.

Ho’s experiment highlighted that while a human can spot lies in messages about 50 percent of the time, the machine-learning approach has a much higher success rate of 85 to 100 percent.

“I want to get the world’s attention on this research so we can hopefully make it into a commercial product that could be attached to all kinds of online social forums,” she said.

“I think we all have good common sense about the people we meet face to face, but how much common sense do we have with the strangers we encounter online where you can meet a lot of people very fast,” Ho continued. “This research is so important because it can provide another reference point offering more protection. All of society can benefit.”

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Jeff Bezos Shows Off ‘Nerdy’ Innovations at Annual Mars Conference

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Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is hosting his annual Mars Conference again, an invite-only event that showcases many “nerdy” innovations, including flying robots, electric multicopters, and rocket engines.

The conference, which is taking place in Palm Springs, California this week, celebrates quirky technology in the sectors of machine learning, automation, robotics, and space (MARS), CNBC reported. The aim of the Mars Conference is to advance new technology ideas, enable attendees to engage with high-tech gadgets, and discuss how these four fields will impact the future.

This year, Bezos opened the Mars Conference by taking “my new dog,” Boston Dynamics’ latest electric quadruped SpotMini robot dog, out for a quick stroll on the grounds, TechCrunch noted.

However, this wasn’t all: The Mars Conference, which doesn’t allow press in, only gives fans a sneak peek of what’s happening via tweets. Attendees shared some cool insights from the invite-only event on Twitter.

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill discussed robot sidekicks.

Bezos went for a ride in Hexa’s electric, single-passenger multicoptor.

Attendees experienced an “out of this world” feeling with NASA’s Orion spacecraft simulator.

Meet Centauro, the robot that can be your next yoga buddy.

Blue Origin’s massive rocket engine was on display outside.

Even though the “secret” Mars Conference is in session, it will be interesting to see which “geeky” devices will be advancing machine learning, automation, robotics, and space in coming years.

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