Change channels on your TV and open documents on your PC with a wave of your hands. That vision of the future, reminiscent of the movie Minority Report, is in the process of becoming reality as the technology behind Microsoft's Kinect moves into products beyond the Xbox 360 game console.
Israeli company PrimeSense, the developer of the chip that controls motion sensing in the Kinect, is licensing the chip for use in other devices and is the releasing the code under an open license.
'Next-Generation User Interface Device'
The company announced last week that its Immersive Natural Interaction technology will be embedded in WAVI Xtion, a "next-generation user interface device" developed by Taiwan-based computer maker ASUS to add PC functionality to TVs. A commercial version is expected to be released during the second quarter, and then rolled out worldwide.
With the controller-free interaction that the new technology makes possible, multimedia content, access to the Internet and social networks, and other PC-based interactions on the TV, as well as TV-based controls, can be conducted entirely through body movements.
The two companies will also introduce Xtion PRO so third-party software developers can incorporate gesture-based interaction into their software products. The tools will be available next month, including an API, and the resulting products will be available through an upcoming Xtion online store.
PrimeSense CEO Inon Beracha said the technology is "a new paradigm" that indicates how all consumer electronics products "will eventually be naturally controlled and operated."
The expansion of the technology comes as Kinect sales continue to boom. Launched by Microsoft in November for its Xbox 360 platform, more than 2.5 million units were sold in the Kinect's first month, and more than eight million have been shipped to retailers. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company will support moving the gestural-based controller to the Windows PC environment "in a formal way at the right time," although no specifics were given.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, said the "most interesting thing" about the Kinect isn't necessarily the game play, "but the gestural control of the console." Because that works so well, he said, "it's no surprise" that the technology would move to TVs and personal computers.
The challenge for other companies seeking to adopt this radically new form of interaction, he said, is "what they actually do" with motion-sensing control, such as creating entirely new forms of interaction. Gartenberg noted that on a PC, that might involve new interfaces, since users are accustomed to keeping their hands on a keyboard for text input and on a mouse or trackpad for cursor control.
Gartenberg said the growth of gestural interaction will "absolutely" continue, but he pointed out that, with eight million units moved in a couple of months, "the Kinect is already mainstream."