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LifeFX lives on online

Company spotlight

LifeFX is looking to get some serious face time.

Through its Facemail technology, which employs lifelike digital people to deliver your email, the Boston-based company is trying to bring a personal touch to the Internet.

“When I first saw this technology, I thought it was phenomenal,” says Lucie Salhany, the company’s CEO and co-prexy, the onetime Fox Broadcasting exec, who recently served as CEO-president of UPN. “It’s going to take the Internet where it needs to be. People want images. You don’t want to sit and watch radio.”

Since its January launch, 300,000 people have signed up to use a generic face and a computerized voice that translates text (or after speaking into a microphone, the voice of the sender) of a sent email.

By early next year, the company plans to take the software to the next level – with the faces of each email sender getting the digital treatment.

Facemail works with the leading email programs (including America Online and Microsoft), and low-speed Internet connections are fine. Talking heads register at 30 frames per second using a 28.8 kilobytes-per-second hook-up.

The patented technology – which uses mathematical equations to pull off the realistic facial movements – also has other applications. For online retailers, it could help reduce the rate of shopping-cart abandonment. Living yearbooks or wedding albums are a possibility, and it could even add personality to ATMs and pay phones.

Kodak has signed on, installing a LifeFX virtual customer rep on its Web site and the technology on millions of its picture CDs. Early next year, photos will be enabled to create 3-D digital virtual images. Other corporate liaisons include IBM, Motorola, Sprint and Whirlpool.

Salhany notes that the product from LifeFX, formerly a subsid of f/x studio Pacific Title/Mirage, comes with something else built-in: “It certainly has a gee-whiz factor.”

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