SwiftKey Puppets

Panda, cat, dog, owl or dinosaur? SwiftKey can turn you into a cute animal when you message friends

SwiftKey users can now appear as cute, animated animals when they message their friends, in a new beta feature announced today.

People can record themselves as a 3D panda, cat, dog, owl or dinosaur, and the popular app will use Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology to mirror their head movements and facial expressions in real-time.

“We wanted to give SwiftKey fans a fun way to communicate with their loved ones beyond pre-defined GIFs,” said Deepak Paramanand, a Product Manager at the company. “We created Puppets, a group of cute and furry friends that people can control just by being themselves. Choose one of five animals, record a message of less than 30 seconds and share it via one of the many popular communication apps supported by Android devices. It’s a fun way to stay in touch.”

Unlike other animal emoji products that use 3D depth sensing, Puppets recognises what a person’s face is doing thanks to the thousands of images and videos of volunteers that they let SwiftKey upload into the program. The team – comprised of Baoyuan Wang, Principle Researcher, and Xin Tong, Principal Research Manager, from Microsoft Research – used these to train a deep neural network to learn how to identify each expression. Being supported by a large amount of data means Puppets can instantly recognise when a user smiles or opens their mouth, for example, and make the animated animal copy it. It is so accurate that it can even copy a person when they blink.

“People want to type fast, and SwiftKey is perfect for that,” Paramanand added. “They also want to express themselves in a fun and interesting way, and now SwiftKey is perfect for that, too.

Faces are 3D, moving objects, so SwiftKey recommends using Puppets in a well-lit room and it will only work on Android devices, with one person at a time.

Puppets, which will be rolled out throughout today, is the latest feature SwiftKey has released to help its users across the world stay in touch with friends and family.

In November, the company made it easier for people to share content from the internet by embedding a search engine into its keyboard. That came just months after the integration of Microsoft Translator, which let users chat in different languages by translating messages in real-time.

SwiftKey is one of the most popular apps in online stores across the world and has been downloaded onto more than 300 million devices. SwiftKey estimates that its predictive keyboard is saving its people 20 million hours per week in reclaimed typing time.