Prof. Deng awarded an NSF grant for socially engaging avatar research

Prof. Zhigang Deng, the Director of Computer Graphics and Interactive Media Lab (, was recently awarded an NSF IIS (Information and Intelligent System) grant titled "design and evaluation of socially engaging avatars". He will lead this $500K interdisciplinary research efforts in three years, in collaboration with Prof. J. Blascovich, a social psychologist at UCSB who will lead the user study part of this project.

Digital immersive virtual environment technology has enormous implications for human-computer interaction. Many qualities of digital human representations, particularly those of human-appearing agents, are important for social engagement and social influence. In particular, non-verbal behaviors play a critical role. Among such behaviors, arguably the most important are facial expressions of emotion, which are critical for meaningful renderings of digital agents. To date, computational models that would permit such renderings are less than optimal. This project will employ a cyclical two-step process to develop a computational model that embeds dynamic expression and socially engaging non-verbal gestures into talking avatars, and experimentally tests its usability within digital virtual environments involving human-digital agent interaction.