From gesture recognition we move easily to its close cousin, motion control. Motion control is big news these days. Post-Wii, we have Microsoft's Project Natal, Sony's PS3 motion controller and even motion-controlled TV remotes like LG's Magic Motion device. With the latter, you can flick left and right to change channels, point and click to select items from a menu, or flick up and down to change the volume. It might not make much sense as a straight TV remote, but as more and more TVs take on Internet and Networked Media Player functions, this sort of precise, more flexible controller starts to look like the best way forward.
Sony and Microsoft's gaming controllers, meanwhile, show the two rivals attempting to take the Wii control paradigm one step further. Sony's controller, which combines one or two motion sensitive ‘wands' with a video feed from the PlayStation Eye camera, is supposed to be more intelligent and accurate than the Wii's gyrometer and IR detector setup, and it will be interesting to see how Sony makes it work with games like LittleBigPlanet and the upcoming Resident Evil 5: Director's Cut.
Microsoft, has other plans for Natal. First of all, Natal is really a sort of cross between gesture recognition and motion control, using a combination of cameras, depth sensors, microphones and dedicated processing to track up to 48 skeletal points of the human body, and do so for up to four players. Not only can it track what your hands and feet are up to, but it's also supposed to be able to handle facial expressions, colours and speech. As early demos of Breakout-style games and a modified Burnout have shown, it's gaming with you as the controller, but it might also enable new styles of game based on forms of human interaction beyond the current point, shoot, punch and jump favourites. We're talking about games that you'll actually want to talk to, that will understand your facial expressions and try to interpret your emotional state. Interestingly, a rival Sony project, the Interactive Communication Unit (ICU), while currently primitive, promises to one day offer much of the same stuff.
What's particularly interesting is that Microsoft is also talking about Natal as a sort of prototype for other human/machine interfaces. In an interview with CNET in July, Bill Gates talked about how the technology might have applications beyond gaming, citing media management and control of home entertainment systems. "And I think there's incredible value as we use that in the office connected to a Windows PC." Gates added. "So Microsoft Research and the Product groups have a lot going on there." By August, Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Craig Mundie, was giving some idea of exactly what Gates meant, with a demo of the office of the future containing Surface computers, wall-sized displays and gesture-recognition powered by a Natal-like system, allowing him to work with multiple applications and documents simultaneously. In other words, Natal might be all about fun right now, but in a few years' time, it could mean business.