LAS VEGAS, 9 JANUARY 2010 - In a small meeting room at the edge of the show floor at the Consumer Electronics Show, a startup company is demonstrating a motion-sensing interface technology that could offer a radical new way for interacting with games, PCs and televisions.
The technology, from Israeli startup PrimeSense, can be embedded in TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes, allowing people to use hand gestures to scroll through cable TV menus from their living room couch, or stand in front of the TV and shuffle documents on the screen by moving their hands around in mid-air, much as Tom Cruise does in the sci-fi film "Minority Report."
The technology can also be used as an interface for PC games and game consoles. In that way it resembles Microsoft's Project Natal, which allows users to stand in front of a large screen and use full-body gestures, such as a kick, punch or jump, to control an avatar on the screen. Microsoft said this week that it will launch Project Natal for Xbox 360 users later this year.
PrimeSense's system uses a sensor-camera that sits above the screen and projects a beam of light, at a wavelength close to infrared, to build a 3D map of the people and objects in a room. When a person activates the device by thrusting their palm out towards the screen, the system locks onto that person and puts them in control.
PrimeSense is a fabless chip company, which means it designs the 3D sensor chip that powers the technology, as well as software that gets embedded into devices. It says it has an agreement with a large manufacturer to produce its chips for the mass market, although it won't yet say who it is.
In fact, a big question mark over PrimeSense is that it won't disclose any of its customers publically yet, although companies in the PC and set-top box markets are likely to announce products this quarter that include its technology, according to Adi Berenson, PrimeSense's vice president for business development and marketing. The company is also in talks with TV makers, he said.
A prototype system is being shown behind closed doors to reporters and industry partners at CES this week. The technology sounds futuristic, but in fact variations on it have been in the works for years, and are also being developed by competitors including Canesta of Sunnyvale, California, Optrima of Belgium, PMDTechnologies of Germany, and Mesa Imaging of Switzerland.
Canesta said in October that it had secured an additional US$16 million in funding, from companies including laptop giant Quanta Computer, to further develop its own 3D sensor technology. Last year Canesta demonstrated a prototype gesture-controlled TV from Hitachi, and it has worked with Honda in the past on vehicle safety systems.
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