Guillermo Bernal wins 2019 Schnitzer Prize

Guillermo Bernal

Guillermo Bernal won the 2019 Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts, which is awarded each year to current MIT undergraduate and graduate students for excellence in a body of work. Students submit their artistic portfolios for consideration.

The first place winner receives $5,000, second place $3,000, third place $2,000, and honorable mention $1,000. Their work is presented in an exhibition in the Wiesner Student Art Gallery in June.

An opening reception for the Schnitzer Prize Exhibition will take place Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in the  Wiesner Student Art Gallery (MIT Building W20, 2nd floor). The reception and exhibition are free and open to the public

First Prize: Guillermo Bernal, Second Year Graduate Student, Media Lab (Fluid Interfaces)

Guillermo Bernal believes virtual reality should be more expressive. “If you go to any state-of-the-art virtual reality platform, you’ll see avatars with faces that are static masks,” says Bernal, a PhD student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at the Media Lab. “I’d like to give them facial expressions, to show whether they are happy or surprised or even angry.”

Bernal’s solution, and the project that earned him top honors in the 2019 Schnitzer Prize, is “Emotional Beast,” a virtual reality headset that monitors the user’s emotional state, and transmits it to the skin of their virtual avatar. Using a head-mounted display, Bernal’s system captures facial movements, heart rate, electrodermal activity, brain signals, and respiration, which are then transformed into emotive expressions in the avatar.

“My goal is to pull avatar design away from the so-called “uncanny valley” and make the avatars more relatable,” says Bernal. “Watching avatars wearing expressions similar to ours can help us become more empathetic.”

Related Content