VALID: Free, Diverse, and Inclusive Virtual Avatars for VR & AR

New Library of Diverse Avatars Released for VR and AR Research

The use of avatars in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) has become increasingly important. Avatars are essential for representing remote participants and facilitating collaboration in social VR and AR interactions. In recent years, many scientists have been working hard to understand the use of avatars and to make many interesting observations. These include the capacity of users to embody their avatars and the self-avatar follower effect, which creates a binding between the actions of the avatar and the user.

Current avatar libraries have not been systematically validated on the diversity spectrum. Societal bias and dynamics also transfer to VR/AR when interacting with avatars, which could lead to incomplete conclusions for studies on human behavior inside VR/AR.

To overcome this problem, the University of Central Florida partnered with Google to release the open-source Virtual Avatar Library for Inclusion and Diversity (VALID). This library of avatars is readily available for usage in VR/AR experiments and includes 210 avatars of seven different races and ethnicities recognized by the US Census Bureau. The avatars have been perceptually validated and designed to advance diversity and inclusion in virtual avatar research.

The avatars were hand modeled and created using a process that combined average facial features with extensive collaboration with representative stakeholders from each racial group. An online study was conducted with participants from 33 countries to determine whether the race and gender of each avatar in the library were recognizable. Our American Indian or Native Alaskan (AIAN), Hispanic, and Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) avatars were typically only identified by participants of the same race, reflecting upon the importance of participant race when identifying a virtual avatar of the same race.

The models are available in FBX format and are compatible with Unity and Unreal game engines. Moreover, they come with 69 bones and 65 facial blendshapes to enable researchers and developers to create and apply dynamic facial expressions and animations. The avatars come with variations of casual and professional attires, including medical, military, worker, and business attires.

The Virtual Avatar Library for Inclusion and Diversity (VALID) is released under the open-source MIT license and can be downloaded and used at no charge. This library will be a valuable resource for researchers and developers working on VR/AR applications, and aims to help create more inclusive and equitable virtual experiences.

The development of this library was a collaboration with the University of Central Florida.

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