If there's one thing I hate more than taking a phone call it's a video call. The overall assumption is that a "face-to-face" via Skype or Facetime is more honest. I find it, be it a bad hair day or bad skin, to be a little too intimate. That doesn't stop people asking. Like it or not, video chat is increasingly becoming a major way that people want to talk to me and each other.

While attending the Consumer Electronics Show last week, I was told by a friend about Looksery, who attended but didn't have a booth.

The app, currently on the iOS app store (though I pray it'll reach the Mac App Store soon) uses Instagram-esque filters to smooth beauty lines and skin tones, as well as a host of more fun effects I wouldn't necessarily use. It's easy to be self-conscious in any face-to-face communication, confident or not, and the rise of video chat has only made that more present.

"Video chat is getting ready to explode," said Looksery Founder and CEO Victor Shaburov, "but there are two major issues that hold it back. Video consumes an enormous amount of bandwidth, and people aren't always comfortable accepting or initiating video calls because of concerns about their appearance."

My application of Looksery is a little different to the app's main selling point (fun filters! Look better!), but Shaburov's app could help break down my regular cringing over visual client calls. While no reporter ever wants to hear a PR professional's voice, regularly foreign clients will want (or need) to have a virtual face-to-face to feel comfortable with handing over their cash.

Looksery works by scanning a user's entire face. A cherry on top for business users' data-plans, its "smart blurring" helps with your bandwidth use by blurring everything either outside the face or outside the body, knocking about 53% off the network traffic hit with the former method or 37% with the latter, while the face is still displayed at a higher (yet prettier) level of detail. This also handles to some extent the annoyance of a sudden video call--one last week showed a relatively un-tidy office that I wasn't particularly pleased for a potential client to see. They were forgiving. Most are not.

The background is oftentimes unimportant to a call in general, and the result takes a lot of the strain off of carriers and data plans alike.

Furthermore, the app's real-time beautification features to remove blemishes, make their faces skinnier (noses in particular tend to be distorted by a camera lens), and even add a layer of makeup. "Our technology will hopefully let users accept video chats even when they're not ready," Shaburov said. I am almost never ready for someone to see my face.

Looksery claims to also cut 92% off of bandwidth consumption by mapping a user's face to a 3D avatar (for example, Looksery developed a 3D avatar of a person). That method essentially only requires transmission of voice data, since the software on the other end can sync facial expressions and mouth movements to the same avatar on the user's app.

Taking Video Beyond Comfort and Appearance

If you walk up to a Hertz booth you'll oftentimes have to pick up a phone and speak to a representative using a modified video client. This can be a tad jarring to some people, and Looksery sees a market in using their video functionality in the business world. Shaburov sees call centers potentially employing 3D avatars to make customers feel more at ease with the person than the faceless "I can't help you" of the Comcasts of the world. Shaburov also believes that Looksery's face mapping data could be used to authenticate callers before they're connected to a representative, which the company believes could save 10% of a current call, given the time spent confirming callers' identities.

Shaburov sees potential in the software's ability to add makeup--a potential boon for cosmetics companies. Counter mirrors with camera-equipped tablets with built-in functionality baked into the app could show potential customers exactly how good (or bad) they might look.

Building Off Kickstarter

The Bay Area-based company completed a successful Kickstarter funding campaign last summer, raising 150 percent of its goal. They hope to shortly release an Android version of the app.

The company is also in talks with multiple firms about licensing its technology for integration in call centers, corporate videoconferencing, and other business uses, as well as photo booths, toy stores and cosmetic counters. Shaburov says they're on the cusp of announcing a major licensing deal with one of the biggest media companies in Hong Kong.

The future also includes the ability to map multiple faces--a potential ideal for the awkward multi-person conference calls I've been forced into over Skype and Google Hangouts. Here's hoping. as there's a very good reason I have few mirrors in my house.

Published on: Jan 19, 2015
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