Every move: Technology created by PrimeSense tracks body movement in 3D.
Asus and PrimeSense are also interested in adding gesture control to conventional PCs. Within weeks of the release of the Kinect controller, hobbyists had figured out a way to access it, leading to an explosion of new ideas about how gesture control could be used—everything from robots to air guitar. “We didn’t expect that to happen so fast,” says Berenson. “It is a validation of how many good ideas developers have, and we want to help them bring them to users.”
PrimeSense has accelerated the rollout of a software tool kit to aid experimentation with the controller and plans to offer a $200 hardware kit for developers.
“Not having to bring a controller is great for situations with multiple changing participants,” says Doug Fritz, part of a team of Kinect hackers at the MIT Media Lab that developed software for controlling the Chrome Web browser.
Stepping in front of the camera and taking control with gestures could make group work easier than having to take turns at a keyboard or mouse, Fritz says. However, he adds, much more would be possible if the device could track hand shapes. “The current technology is good for body gestures, not fine-grain control,” he explains. That makes things like text input a particular challenge.
Doug Bowman, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University who has developed 3-D gestural interfaces based on more expensive tracking technology, agrees. One of his students, Tao Ni, has developed a system that allows a user to navigate menus on a TV using simple movements such as pinching fingers together (see a video of a prototype). “These freehand gestures could replace a remote or keyboard altogether in, say, an entertainment scenario,” says Bowman. However, Ni’s prototype requires a special glove to capture the precise orientation of a person’s hand and their finger movements. “The Kinect is not capable of that yet,” says Bowman. “But perhaps in the future it will be.”
Berenson says that improving the resolution of PrimeSense’s tracking is one area of active research. “We are thinking about tracking resolution and trying to follow fingers,” he says. Another future direction would have the system interpret subtle body language. “We want to make it less explicit and more implicit,” he says. “For example, it should be possible to have the volume go down on your TV when you pick up a newspaper and start reading it.”