Project Natal has become an unfolding story on this blog. Johnny Chung Lee, the man behind the Wiimote head tracking hack which I've emulated before, has announced on his blog that he's now working with the Microsoft Project Natal team to take the system from demo stage to finished 3D gaming product.
Critisicsm on the web has been in the lines of "I don't want to wave my arms around to control my computer". And rightly so — I agree that this is a limited niche. However. Digital cameras, in a short decade or so have replaced analogue cameras due to their lowering cost, increasing pixel density and capture quality. In the same way, I envision this 3D technology quickly becoming cheap, high-quality and mainstream. Looking forward, this technology could be embedded into display screens itself. This would allow a touchscreen to obtain 'mouseover' information as well as improved touch information. It would also allow for more human gestures, performed over (but not touching) the flat input device, to activate occasionally needed actions.
- Shake your hand like you're saying 'no thanks' over the device for Undo
- Make a flat palm hand, like a sheet of paper, for New Document
To learn more, watch this 2006 Google tech talk explaining (what I believe is) similar technology. This is the first time I saw this technology, and their more long range version is impressive stuff. You need to scan forward about 20mins to get to the interesting stuff.
The video above shows some scenes which give you a sense of the 3D camera's data might be providing. This still image shows you the 3D data the Natal system may be receiving. However, turning this bunch of pixels into a reasonably accurate model of the human body is, as Johnny points out, really amazing.