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Business - Written by on Thursday, June 4, 2009 12:01 - 3 Comments

Microsoft & Sony at E3 – augmented reality approaches

At this year’s E3 Microsoft announced Natal (check out the link but prepare for bad acting). Natal offers a new controller-less gaming interface – presumably an attempt to 1-up the wii, and take over your living room. The technology appears to be a depth sensing camera, something which my colleague Derek wrote about in “You may never need a controller again“. It’s a move that suggests that Microsoft got a pretty good deal when it ended up purchasing 3DV systems (a maker of depth sensing cameras) for an alleged $35 million. Here’s their video from E3:

Other aspects of Natal include identity recognition, interaction with virtual characters, and some nice augmented reality tricks like fishing (reminiscent of Reactrix or GestureTek’s virtual fishponds) and being able to pass a piece of paper into a virtual world (see what appears to be a carefully scripted video below):

While the technology isn’t expected to be released for some time (unlikely if it will even appear in 2010).  Microsoft says it projects a long life for the Xbox 360 (out to 2015)  and Microsoft’s  Shane Kim says, “Project Natal is a great innovation. It will work with every Xbox 360 sold.”

Not to be outdone, Sony also had some intesting technology to reveal at E3. A new motion controller that looks like a lot like a handheld microphone. This device appears to have extremely low latency and extremely accurate positioning. You can see for yourself in the video below:

A couple years back a French company (does anyone remember the name) had advanced augmented reality demonstrations that look a lot like this one (I’ll post the video if I can track it down), and it would be interesting to know if Sony ended up working with them or developed this in parallel.

Update: Thanks Derek for correctly identifying the French company as Total Immersion. Even more interesting still is that they list Sony on their client page. Here’s Total Immersion’s great video from 2007  (also check out an even earlier video w/ light saber ):

It would appear that this technology may be combining some wii-like sensors with image recognition that might be a descendent of the eyetoy. On initial inspection, it may not appear quite as distinctive as Microsoft’s Natal, but it looks to have some amazing specs and the speed and precision are exceptionally good. I will hazard a bet that Sony has learned some useful things from eyeToy and is going to hit the mark with this one.

All in all,  both these introductions point to a very exciting future for gaming interfaces that will blur the lines between digital worlds and physical reality even further. They will be blazing a trail for new forms of augmented reality in games that are sure to make useful contributions to other industries as well. Watch for some exciting developments in this space.


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Derek Pokora
Jun 4, 2009 12:47

Was the company you were thinking of called ‘Total Immersion’?

Alan Majer
Jun 4, 2009 13:21

Yes, Total Immersion is the company I was thinking of! Thanks! I’ll edit the post to include the video.

Ioannis Tarnanas
Jun 4, 2009 16:27

I knew this company and it is quite impressive. Interesting to see that their tech is being adapted by Sony. I still believe that Augmented Reality has a great future, even greater than VR..

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