Applications and Tools, Business in Virtual Worlds, Virtual World Platforms

Microsoft, 3D Cameras, and Virtual Conferencing

Microsoft is in talks to purchase 3DV Systems for $35M, a purchase that would give it access to a 3D camera – a very similar product to that being developed by Mitch Kapor.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the move would give Microsoft a competitor to the Nintendo Wii controller, but with a difference: no controller required, the camera works entirely through detection of body motion:

“3DV Systems develops “virtual reality” imaging technology for digital cameras that it sells, called ZCams (formerly Z-Sense). Its main targets are the gaming market (“enjoy a genuinely immersive experience,” the company says on its Web site).

Now that graphics have become so advanced, it explains, the key to making a real difference lies in how you can control the game. The ZCam lets players control the game using body gestures alone, rather as PlayStation’s EyeToy does, or Microsoft’s Vision or Nintendo’s Wii. 3DV Systems argues that its system is better than these, adding that you don’t have to wear anything.

Microsoft apparently plans to use 3DV Systems’ technology in its own gaming technology, probably in the Xbox 360.”

Kapor last talked about his 3D camera at his SL5B keynote. The following was an early demo of the system:

Beyond Games

3DV sees applications beyond games. According to their Web site, applications include Minority Report style controllers:

“Creating an intuitive sign language to replace the keyboard or remote control has been an aspiration of many. Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” looked so cool moving files around with his fingers Today, 3DV’s technology creates the opportunity to use fine hand and finger gestures to control your PC and for the first time replicate Cruise’s experience, except without any wearables.”

Um, I think he’s playing basketball.

Or, they propose 3D video conferencing, with the ability to replace the background of the location you’re broadcasting from:

“The natural next phase in a 3G world should be mobile video-conferencing. And yet, many people might feel that their location and setting when using a mobile phone – in the car, in a hotel room or in the open – would provide the wrong video background settings for such a conversation.

3DV’s revolutionary technology can make a new, creative and private mobile video conferencing a reality. Using the capability to capture depth, the video background can be easily replaced in real-time. Furthermore, the speaker’s 3D image can be rotated and positioned at the middle of the screen with the eyes looking straight ahead, even if in reality the speaker is in her car looking at the road.”

I’ve long proposed that there’s a coming wave of innovation based on rethinking the interfaces to virtual worlds, whether they’re touch screens on the living room wall, 3D cameras, or controls based on brain waves. As virtual worlds and games become unshackled from the mouse/screen paradigm, there will be richer opportunities for augmented reality and information spaces and new ideas about how to navigate within virtual world environments and what that implies for how information space is constructed.

Microsoft is making similar bets – which is maybe incentive enough to get Mitch’s camera out of the garage.


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