Thanks to Microsoft’s Kinect, millions are casting aside their controllers and using their bodies to play games. Now the company that created the motion-tracking hardware for the Kinect wants to make waving your arms an accepted way to control everything from your TV to your desktop computer.
PrimeSense, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, makes a package that combines one or two conventional cameras, an infrared depth sensor, and specialized computer chips. Together they collect and interpret a person’s movements in 3-D. The movements are calculated by projecting a grid of infrared light spots into a room, tracking how light bounces back, and correlating this with information from the stereo cameras. Certain motions can be translated into computer commands or, in the case of Kinect, used to control an on-screen avatar.
While Microsoft focuses on gaming, PrimeSense is trying to establish other uses, for example TV control. In collaboration with PC manufacturer Asus, PrimeSense has developed a device called the WAVI Xtion. It looks a lot like the Kinect controller, but connects via a PC to the TV and lets the viewer use gestures to control what appears on the screen.
The WAVI Xtion camera is positioned next to the TV, while the control box connects to the computer. A user waves a palm in front of the TV to call up a simple menu that would let him choose between watching shows, playing games, or looking at photos. The user points to one of these options with his palm, which is tracked by the cameras and infrared sensor. To choose an option, the user holds a palm over a particular video, or he can flip through options by waving to the right or left. When the clip is playing, he can wave a palm at the screen to call up the controls to rewind the video or turn up the volume.
Adi Berenson, PrimeSense’s vice president of business development, says the hands-free approach eliminates a major sticking point with efforts to bring the Internet to televisions. “We believe that the industry is trying to force-fit the PC into the living room, and it won’t work,” he says. “It’s a more relaxed environment that needs a more natural way to interact.” Google TV—the search giant’s Internet TV effort—relies on a full QWERTY keyboard, a feature that many think is too unwieldy to be practical.