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Hands on: Without apps, Intel's RealSense camera is a puzzle

Mark Hachman | March 6, 2015
Intel's RealSense camera appear like they could be a viable future for interacting with your PC, but a lack of apps is a real hurdle early on.

The concept is an interesting one, playing off of a thesis authored by the game's creative director, Erin Reynolds. Producer Michael Annetta explained that the original concept called for using a chest strap to track the user's heart rate, but the RealSense camera was far less intrusive.

In my brief playthrough, I found the game concept fascinating enough, although the RealSense camera seemed to hold the experience back. I'll admit I was a bit nervous, and my "viewscreen" was quickly filled with static. I settled down quickly--after all, the tutorial level began in bucolic, peaceful countryside--but the static never went away until I restarted the game. I suspect that either the game didn't poll the camera often enough, or else the camera couldn't easily detect changes in my pulse. (Note that RealSense camera is designed to "read" you from 20 cm to 200 cm, or 7 inches to 47 inches away.) Restarting the game seemed to solve the problem.

That's not to say that those are the only apps available for the RealSense camera right now; Intel's Perceptual Computing Challenge has helped commission games like Head of the Order, for example, where users can "cast spells" by drawing glyphs onto the screen.

The reason that this is important, however, is that Intel hopes to make the RealSense technology ubiquitous, replacing the common Webcams found in notebooks with its own, more sophisticated cameras.

One can imagine a world where Cheetos-munching users navigate by waving their hands through space, rather than pawing a keyboard or the display itself. But as interesting as the NeverMind concept is, Intel needs to do two things: attract mainstream app support, such as a browser or productivity app, and offer a showcase or app store where users can try them out.

I certainly don't want to imply that Intel's RealSense is dead or not worthwhile--not by any means. Intel did us the courtesy of providing us hardware that few actually have. But Intel clearly wanted journalists to walk away thinking that developers need to get on board and support the platform. We'll agree. If RealSense is going to become mainstream, we need some mainstream uses for it.


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