'Minority Report' interface shown at CES

The system can also be used for gaming, where it resembles Microsoft's Project Natal

Flipping through movies with PrimeSense's motion-sensing interface technology

Flipping through movies with PrimeSense's motion-sensing interface technology

In a small meeting room at the edge of the show floor at the Consumer Electronics Show, a startup company is demonstrating a motion-sensing interface technology that could offer a radical new way for interacting with games, PCs and televisions.

The technology, from Israeli startup PrimeSense, can be embedded in TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes, allowing people to use hand gestures to scroll through cable TV menus from their living room couch, or stand in front of the TV and shuffle documents on the screen by moving their hands around in mid-air, much as Tom Cruise does in the sci-fi film "Minority Report."

The technology can also be used as an interface for PC games and game consoles. In that way resembles Microsoft's Project Natal, which allows users to stand in front of a large screen and use full-body gestures, such as a kick, punch or jump, to control an avatar on the screen. Microsoft said this week that it will launch Project Natal for Xbox 360 users later this year.

PrimeSense's system uses a sensor-camera that sits above the screen and projects a beam of light, at a wavelength close to infrared, to build a 3D map of the people and objects in a room. When a person activates the device by thrusting their palm out towards the screen, the system locks onto that person and puts them in control.

PrimeSense is a fabless chip company, which means it designs the 3D sensor chip that powers the technology, as well as software that gets embedded into devices. It says it has an agreement with a large manufacturer to produce its chips for the mass market, although it won't yet say who it is.

In fact, a big question mark over PrimeSense is that it won't disclose any of its customers publically yet, although companies in the PC and set-top box markets are likely to announce products this quarter that include its technology, according to Adi Berenson, PrimeSense's vice president for business development and marketing. The company is also in talks with TV makers, he said.

A prototype system is being shown behind closed doors to reporters and industry partners at CES this week. The technology sounds futuristic, but in fact variations on it have been in the works for years, and are also being developed by competitors including Canesta of Sunnyvale, California, Optrima of Belgium, PMDTechnologies of Germany, and Mesa Imaging of Switzerland.

Canesta said in October that it had secured an additional US$16 million in funding, from companies including laptop giant Quanta Computer, to further develop its own 3D sensor technology. Last year Canesta demonstrated a prototype gesture-controlled TV from Hitachi, and it has worked with Honda in the past on vehicle safety systems.

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 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."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags CESces 2010User InterfacedisplaysPrimeSense

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

James Niccolai

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?