When Lenovo-backed Eedoo first announced
a motion-controlled 3D system called the eBox, Microsoft's Kinect had yet to sell a single unit. Now that Microsoft's depth-sensing camera has sold upwards of eight figures
, Eedoo's decision to jump on the motion-control bandwagon seems a bit prescient.
But Eedoo's system -- now called the iSec and targeted for a Chinese launch later this year -- is using depth-sensing hardware that's fundamentally different from that powering Microsoft's Kinect. That hardware comes from SoftKinetic, a Belgian company founded in 2007 that sees depth-sensing camera technology revolutionizing all sorts of computing tasks, from home automation to sports.
"It's only been a relatively short time since the release of Kinect," said Virgile Delporte, VP of marketing and business development at SoftKinetic. "3D cameras, combined with color and audio, will become familiar input devices, not only for video games but also for smart TVs, PC and mobile devices."
SoftKinetic's DepthSense technology uses a standard CMOS camera sensor and off-the-shelf LEDs to measure how long it takes pulses of light of bounce off objects and return to the source. It's a much more straightforward system than the Kinect's structured light, which uses two special sensors to measure the deformation on a projected grid of tiny, infrared dots.
"The principle of [time-of-flight] is simple to understand yet pretty complex to build," Delporte said. "Time-of-flight technology is considered 'next generation,' and is just reaching maturity now. It is more flexible, scalable, and allows us to develop 3D imaging solutions for many different markets, not just video games."
Indeed, time-of-flight cameras can take up a much smaller footprint than Kinect's wide, dual-camera sensor bar, and SoftKinetic says it's eager to exploit this advantage by adapting the technology for use on everything from laptops to tablets in the future.
Time-of-flight systems also don't require the kind of complex, processor-intensive calculations needed to interpret data from structured light systems, which developers have complained lead to a perceivable lag between real-world inputs and on-screen actions with the Kinect. In fact, time-of-flight cameras can operate at up to 100 frames per second with very little computational overhead.
And while SoftKinetic wouldn't discuss precise pricing for its DepthSense system, Delporte said the standard sensor "makes it very well suited for the consumer market." The price is also kept down by using a low resolution, 320 x 240 image sensor, roughly a quarter of the resolution of the Kinect but still high enough to "track your fingers and precise hand-movements," the company claims.
SoftKinetic, which is also developing software for the iSec, says focusing the system's launch on the relatively underserved Chinese market is a good way for it to find a foothold.
"The Chinese market in itself represents a huge potential as none of the three current major gaming consoles are available in China," Delporte said. "Beyond that we also are very excited with the ambitions of Lenovo to bring this product potentially to other markets once the company has achieved success in China."