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PrimeSense paints future of home-tech interaction

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August 17, 2009

A revolutionary new way to interact with technology in the home?

A revolutionary new way to interact with technology in the home?

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Nintendo certainly created a stir when it introduced motion-sensing controls to the video game industry, but subsequent developments that are no more than a year or two from fruition are already threatening to confine this relatively new technology to the proverbial scrap-heap. The latest of these is PrimeSense, the winner of CableLabs’ Innovation Showcase and ‘best new product’ at the event. On paper at least, PrimeSense appears to be versatile and innovative enough to have widespread impact on the way we interact with modern technology.

The product is essentially a 3D camera that allows devices like televisions to ‘see a view of the surrounding area’ by scanning a room to determine who is present through a combination of shape recognition and thermal imaging. Among other things, this would allow you to interact with games by making hand gestures and movements without the need for a dedicated controller.

At this point you’d be forgiven for drawing some serious comparisons between PrimeSense and Project Natal and though PrimeSense does cite gaming as one of the advantages of the product, is rather sensibly demonstrating applications in other areas as well.

Automotive, security and surveillance seem to be potential markets but initially the focus is on improving interactivity in the home and adding a level of automation to consumer electronics. You could, for example, replace the typical actions of a mouse and keyboard to surf channels, open menus and access content, engage in video communication using virtual screens and drawing boards and get fit with virtual trainers that monitor your posture and movement.

Specific applications that have been suggested so far include determining who is sitting in front of the TV so as to enable or disable parental controls for potentially inappropriate content, the ability to switch appliances on and off as people come and go and virtual keyboards projected in the vicinity of the user to facilitate interaction.

However, with more and more devices in the home requiring an Internet connection to unlock various features, and new developments such as web-enabled TVs becoming more common, concerns over privacy might enter the equation.

Prime Sense’s ultimate goal is to build the product into conventional televisions, set-top boxes and games consoles while working with third-party developers to create dedicated applications. This does raise questions about exactly what activity is being monitored and what information is being sent back to the manufacturer or third-party companies looking to provide a tailored service. After all, few would be happy browsing the internet with an ‘always-on’ webcam attached to a monitor.

With core-functionality mirrored already by Project Natal and what will undoubtedly become a series of new contenders, it’s difficult not to see a future that doesn’t involve this type of interactivity in the modern home. Whether or not this will be primarily for the benefit of the consumer though, is yet to be seen.

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