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Motion Control Technology – the Future is Here

Motion control appears to be more than just a new technology - it’s a major revolution that enables new platforms, attracts new audiences and takes on new challenges, affecting everyday life. This article describes some of the aspects of this revolution.

On November 4th, 2010 Microsoft released its revolutionary Kinect interface that recognizes you and your motions, making you the controller of media and games on the Xbox 360 game console. Then, the world changed!

This means that motion control isn't just a technology or an additional interface  – rather, it’s a major revolution that is enabling new platforms, attracting new audiences and taking on new and emerging challenges, affecting everyday life.

Over the last few months, new uses have emerged for motion-controlled applications which stem from the Kinect technology - now used in diverse areas such as teaching astronomy, navigation assistance for the visually impaired, even moving robots and vehicles. New applications are being discovered and explored almost on a daily basis.

As summer approaches and the big consumer electronics and with entertainment trade events near, more manufacturers are adding motion-controlled interfaces to new platforms such as smart TV's, connected set-top boxes, PCs, Mobile phones, and more.

Motion-control games are the source of this exciting interface, and are expected to lead as the favorite family pastime, but also raising the bar in what consumers expect from their consumer electronic devices in terms of interaction and ease of use. As the interface becomes more sophisticated (including 3D detection, multi-user detection, finger level resolution, voice and more), it leads to a more tactile feeling for the user, superior immersion and a whole new experience that transcends the limits of man vs. electronic media.

The latest announcement by Microsoft about its new Kinect SDK for PC has created a definite buzz which is of great interest to software developers worldwide, as well as inventors, engineers and technology experts. This is the first time that a complete motion control technology package (from the sensor to the middleware) will be available to the global development community and it will provide an enormous boost to the exploration and development of new and innovative uses for motion control.

Developers have already had access to the sensor and the ‘raw’ motion data it provides (in the form of a depth map) using the drivers developed by Kinect Hacks. However, working directly with raw data significantly limits the variety of things that can be done with the sensor and significantly increases the complexity of applications using it. The skeletal representation of the human body, which is provided through the Kinect SDK, is much more intuitive to use than raw motion data, as it resembles the way we are accustomed to perceive human motion. This helps in making the creation of complex motion control applications much faster, leaving time for more trial-and-error cycles which increase application quality.

One thing we’ve learned over the years is that there is no ‘formula’ to predict which applications will succeed in the mass market – this is true for gaming as well as in other areas. However, the number of applications created for a certain platform directly affects the number of hit applications that the platform will have. From that perspective we expect the release of the Kinect SDK to significantly enhance the future dominance of motion-control platforms in the mass market – there will be many more developers creating all sorts of applications, and as a result there will be many more hit applications, and the platform will be more popular with the mass market. We’ve seen this happening in a very dramatic manner with the iPhone – the low barrier to entry for developers (compared to traditional game platforms) has resulted in an enormous number of applications being created, which in turn has significantly raised the attractiveness (and popularity) of the iPhone.

While different views exist as to its future, it’s clear that the new interface can potentially be applied to many areas, and since Microsoft has seen so many innovations developed by hackers, they identified the potential and decided to be part of it – and part of the potential revenue.

At Side-kick, the company I work for, we have been working on developing motion games geared for various platforms, for the last three years. We have found that the design and the development of games and application with motion interfaces require considerable expertise and experience. What is conventionally accepted and intuitively understood in touch games, may not work in motion control. The reasons are numerous:

a. All people are different. A movement that is easy for one person to execute may be impossible for another.

b. Programming a motion is totally different from gamepad and touch platform standards. Where known interfaces like a controller with specific buttons provide a specific and predictable result, that’s not the case with free motion, where your body moves in a three-dimensional space, creating a multitude of real-time ever-changing factors to the result.

c. Developing and testing motion games may prove to be gruesome physical work. You have to be up to the task - physically, emotionally and mentally.

We are working along other pioneers to learn and perfect the user experience as well as the implementation of motion control interfaces in new and exciting games and applications that are made specifically to be used with gestures and motions. As our mass-market audience will be "waving", "pointing", "sliding" and "swiping" very soon in front of their Smart TVs and Set-top boxes, we are committed to support and contribute to the entire development community.  We welcome your feedback, questions and ideas and hope to meet you at E3 and later this year as motion-controllers take their next big step. 

Tal Raviv

Head of Production

Side Kick

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