December 10, 2007 4:00 AM PST

New game controller: Your hands

New game controller: Your hands
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Imagine playing a flight simulation video game that lets you guide the aircraft with your hands alone. Or think about sparring with a virtual boxing opponent by doing nothing but standing up and throwing punches in the air.

If an Israeli company called 3DV Systems has its way, you won't have to just imagine it, or many other examples of games that users could control entirely with their hands, for much longer. That's because its new ZCam, a 3D camera that plugs directly into a PC, is designed to let gamers' hands be the only controllers they need.

In light of the tremendous success of Nintendo's motion-sensitive Wiimote controller for its Wii video game console, 3DV is banking on making a lot of money with technology it thinks can move the genre forward even further.

The ZCam works by emitting short infrared pulses and then measuring the reflections off objects. Sophisticated software algorithms interpret those reflections in such a way that the system can judge the distance of--and distinguish between--various objects and, say, discern someone's hands.

Because it relies strictly on the reflection of the light from the camera, it doesn't need ambient light to work, allowing ZCam to function in a dark room, or with any kind of background, bright, dark or otherwise.

Tomer Barel, 3DV's vice president of marketing and product management, says that means the software can key in on a gamer's hands, and even between his or her fingers, and can run various applications based on what that person does with their head, hands, fingers, or torso.

ZCam

The technology has applications beyond video games, as well, particularly because it has some ability to be autonomously applied to existing software.

During a demonstration at CNET News.com, in fact, Barel showed how he could use simple gestures with his fingers and thumb to navigate through the Microsoft Vista menu tree.

But while 3DV Systems has clients in many different fields, including the military, its focus for now is on video games and how the ZCam technology could make a dent in the traditional interface market.

The company doesn't intend to put ZCam itself on the market as a consumer product. Rather, it intends to license the technology to others, potentially a console maker such as Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo, or to PC game developers.

"We don't see ourselves selling this directly as 3DV," said Barel, "but partnering with publishers or hardware companies."

If that's the company's business model, it's not clear how receptive its desired partners will be. Reaction to the technology is mixed, with analysts offering strikingly differing views of the value of ZCam and how much it could add to game companies' bottom lines.

"It is, I think, an impressive addition to the game control interface, or any control interface (that is moving) from traditional to intuitive," said Billy Pidgeon, a games analyst at IDC who was briefed on ZCam.

"It fits into the concept of navigation that (Nintendo's) Wii has already started to go down. And although there have been similar things in camera navigation into the control interface for games or entertainment, this is more impressive because of the depth aspect."

For example, Pidgeon added, "I've seen other uses of cameras to help a gamer or user manipulate objects by tracking movement, sort of in X and Y (axes). But it's generally been pretty limited. And adding the extra navigation in the Z (axis) is going to help, completing the navigation."

One well-known manifestation of a camera giving users gestural control over their games is Sony's EyeToy, an accessory camera for the PlayStation 2 or PlayStation Portable that gives users the ability to incorporate their body movements into various games.

But devices like the EyeToy work in 2D only, and that limits their effectiveness for games like boxing, argued Barel.

"You can't do it as accurately and as naturally as you can do here," Barel said of the ZCam. "The limitation of 2D is that it only can detect motion when it's to the side. It cannot detect motion when the background is yourself."

See more CNET content tagged:
reflection, video game, controller, Nintendo Co. Ltd., gamer

8 comments

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It's a shame that Sony is only mentioned as a footnote
I think the article could have benefited from a little more investigation of what Sony has been doing and researching with camera-based motion detection on the Playstation platform. Their lead researcher, Dr. Richard Marks, has been demonstrating the same IR tech for a few years now, citing cost as the main barrier to implementation in a game platform at the moment.
Posted by purpleLightning (87 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Like Wii, Could Be Big If Done Right
Nintendo wasn't the first to come up with or use motion sensitive controllers. Nintendo's Wii was the first to successfully incorporate motion sensitive controllers into all of its games.

Wii's motion sensitive controllers are the reason why Sony and Microsoft have had to reduce their console prices. If Microsoft and Sony want to compete then they will have to find a way to mimic Nintendo's success with the Wii controllers.

It is too late to incorporate something like the 3DV for the current generation of XBox and PS games. The current XBox and PS3 games are not made with motion sensitive controls in mind and the device would be little more than a gimmick.

All console manufacturers will need some kind of motion sensitive controller in order to compete with the next generation of consoles. It makes perfect sense that a console manufacturer might license 3DV technology for their next generation console and, like Nintendo's Wii, make it the primary control interface.

There is a huge difference between playing a console game that was designed to be played with a standard controller and one that was designed to be played with a motion sensitive controller. Dance Dance Revolution is a perfect example of how motion sensitive controllers can improve game play. You could play DDR with a standard, hand-held controller but DDR is clearly meant to be played with (and is arguably more fun to play when using) a dance pad.

All you have to do is play a few Wii games to understand why the future game consoles will need some kind of motion sensitive controller in order to be successful.
Posted by Fat Drunk and Stupid (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does anyone else remember...
that circle controller thing that laid on the ground and you stood in the center? It was suppose to let you control games through body movement: you punched, the character punch; you kicked, the character kicked? That had to have been about 15 years ago that I saw it advertised in gaming magazines.
Posted by aka_tripleB (2211 comments )
Link Flag
Similar to edusim3d.com in schools !
this is great stuff !


======
Posted by GreenbushLabs (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I saw a new virtual walk game controller on YouTube that lets you walk to play. It was really simple and worked with PC, Xbox, Wii and PS2/3 and existing games. As the article say, a controller must have games to catch on. They had a demo of the controller with Second Life and Halo.

Pretty slick how they made an inexpensive and simple controller that actually simulates walking.
And the idea of exercising while playing appeals to a wider range of people. Look at the Wii and games like DDR. Moving your body is fun. This controller will work for DDR as well as walking games. I bet there are a bunch of new gaming idea with the right controller. Wii has already proved that.

The company was asking customer to register at their site to get the first batch of 5,000 controllers made. Pretty interesting business model and a cool controller.
Posted by solvtech (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It's really interesting to see how Nintendo tries to exploit to the maximum extent the idea of "hand control" - as opposite to "finger control" that we see in all other consoles, as well as in PC. Now even the "simple" motion of hand immediately translates into "virtual" events. But it looks like Nintendo lost the major "differentiation" of Wii: fun of exercising. Motions of hand aren't exercises anymore - except the people who need to restore the hand motion after trauma.
I think combining this "hand" control with walking control mentioned by solvtech would return Wii on "exergaming" track. I know that hardcore gamers disagree with me - from their standpoint, gesture of hand might be even better way to play the games than running fingers across the keyboard. This is just my personal opinion.
Posted by Kapraz (1 comment )
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Posted by zhangzhuanting (1 comment )
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