If a patent that Microsoft is seeking is granted, the old saw that "on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog" may be history.
That's because computer scientists at Microsoft Research (MSR) Division have come up with a technology aimed at incorporating a user's health information into users' online gaming avatars.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) filed for a patent on the technology in June 2008, and the application was publicly posted last week by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
The concept is that game avatars enable the game player to be anything or anyone he or she wants to be online. That may not be the healthiest thing for that person to be engaging in, however.
So, why not link the player's physiological information into that person's online avatar?
"An avatar generator for a virtual environment reflects a physiological characteristic of the user, injecting a degree of reality into the capabilities or appearance. Thereby, many of the incentives of the real world are replicated in a virtual environment," the patent application says.
"Physiological data that reflect a degree of health of the real person can be linked to rewards of capabilities of a gaming avatar, an amount of time budgeted to play, or a visible indication," it continues.
Tying user's health data into the avatar might, for instance, encourage the gamer to exercise more in order to mirror the avatar's characteristics online.
"Thereby, people are encouraged to exercise. Physiological data that reflect the health and perhaps also mood also improve social interaction in virtual environments," the application states.
For one thing, that could prevent users who wanted to seem to be someone entirely different from being able to fool others.
The data could be provided via a health repository such as Microsoft's HealthVault service. That's the free health data repository for users that Microsoft debuted in late 2007.
Alternatively, the data could be acquired from a medical data smart card, or even from live sensors following the user's vital signs in real time, such as blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, pedometer readings, and more.
"Linking the avatar to a physical characteristic of a user provides leverage to provide incentives or constraints that can encourage good behavior (e.g., healthy behaviors, virtuous behaviors, etc.)"
That could promote healthier behaviors when not gaming because the physical attributes of the real-life user would get superimposed onto the virtual character of the user's avatar.
You are what you play
"For example, an undesirable body weight could be reflected in an overweight or underweight appearance for the avatar. An unhealthy condition could be reflected in an unhealthy pallor, posture," the application says. If the user was horribly out of shape, he or she might even be banned from a game until that person shaped up.
Of course, like many patents, the importance of the technology may not be all that apparent, and companies like Microsoft often simply acquire as many patents as possible for the sake of defense against lawsuits. For those and other reasons, Microsoft has been racking up the patents and applications in recent years.
Magic wands and time limits on software
Among outstanding applications, for instance, Microsoft is applying to patent a user interface device that looks like a magic wand.
Other applications are for more practical technologies, such as a patent the company is seeking to place time limits on how long a piece of software can be used.
Microsoft's application for physiologically affected avatars is can be viewed online.
Even at 3,000 a year, the software giant trails several other tech giants including leader IBM (NYSE: IBM), which last year became the first company to earn more than 4,000 U.S. patents (4,186) in a single year.
Article courtesy of InternetNews.com.