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'Minority Report' interface shown at CES

James Niccolai | Jan. 11, 2010
The system can also be used for gaming, where it resembles Microsoft's Project Natal

Most companies in the market are using a "time of flight" technology, which works by emitting an infrared pulse from a camera above the screen and measuring the time it takes to bounce back from objects in the room. This allows the systems to calculate the distance of each surface and create a virtual 3D model of the room. Any changes, like hand movements, are then translated onto the screen.

PrimeSense uses a variation of this. Instead of calculating the time for light to bounce off of objects, it encodes patterns in the light and builds a 3D image by examining the distortion created in those patterns by objects in the room, Berenson said.

He claimed this system is faster and more accurate than time-of-flight systems, and can operate in near darkness. The technology can map out objects that are up to 18 feet (six meters) away, though six to seven feet is best for applications where the user is standing up, and 10 to 12 feet is the "sweet spot" for using hand gestures on the couch, he said.

The entire system, including the sensor chip and middleware, will cost manufacturers $20 to $30 to add to PCs or TVs when shipped in volume, Berenson said. Most high-end TVs will have enough computational power to run the software, and have USB 2.0 ports where the sensor device can be plugged in, he said.

PrimeSense showed a few applications for the technology here. At one point during a "Minority Report" style demonstration the system froze for a moment, but it recovered fairly quickly and appeared to work smoothly after that.

When using the "touch-screen" effect to manipulate documents, the outlines of two grey hands appear on the screen corresponding to the user's hands in mid-air. Touching a document turns the palms red, and the document can then be moved about the screen or rotated using two hands. Possible uses including sorting through digital photos on a PC, or playing a card game on a TV screen.

The sensor on top of the TV also includes a camera and a microphone, and PrimeSense showed how a person's image can be superimposed over a background on the screen, much like a weatherman on TV.

It wasn't clear how the capability might be used, and partner companies will have to come up with some of their own applications for the technology. One possibility is for a type of videoconferencing between two Internet-connected TVs, so that two people could discuss a Web page by appearing to stand in front of it on the screen and point to images and links on the page.

"We don't know yet how everything will be implemented," Berenson said, "but it's something that could be fun to use."

 

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