SoftKinetic, a new gaming start-up, offers 3D gesture recognition

Atherton company SoftKinetic may be about change the gaming industry, if the technology proves as good as it looks on a video demo.

The company lets you interact with a game in three dimensions, without touching a remote control. If captures your arm and other body movements, and translates that into actions within a game. Check out the video below for a remarkable demonstration of how it works.

We should note this technology is very young. It is barely out of the labs, where it was developed by a team out of the University of Brussels, in Belgium. However, it is significant because the company says this is the first time a company has translated body movements in three-dimensions. While the big game manufacturers like Nintendo have developed new 3D technologies, like Wii, SoftKinetic says it has done them one-better: While Nintendo and others require you to use a hardware device in your hand, SoftKinetic can do it without any device. It can perceive depth, and incorporates all of the other body nuances, like dancing, flying, throwing and bat-swinging.For example, if you throw with you with your arm, the game translates that into a throwing action in the game (see the video). “We’ll blow Nintendo away,” says chief excutive Georges van
Hoegaerden, with a grin during a briefing with VentureBeat last week. Hoegaerden has just established the company’s headquarters in Atherton. Co-founder Eric Krzeslo heads the company’s R&D in Belgium, with co-founders Gilles Pinault and Xavier Baele the lead technologists. See the company’s announcement here. The company says the technology will apply beyond games, because it can be used for things like directing your home entertainment system, and developing educational software.

softkinetic.bmpThe question remains just how much of a break-through this is. The technology uses an infrared camera, which is what gives the company’s technology the ability to do depth perception. These cameras are off-the-shelf, costing about $15 each and taking 60 frames a second. But SoftKinetic integrates that with sophisticated software that is aware of the types of axle-like movements that a body can make. The body’s movements, it turns out, are constrained by its joints. There are only so many ways a body, head and shoulders can rotate, and so SoftKinetic’s algorithmic software • helped by its 65 visual sensors — can interpret with good accuracy what the body is doing, because it can determine depth. But both of these technologies — infrared, to perceive depth, and body-movement software — are well-known, and so the question is whether SoftKinetic has been able to integrate these two in a more sophisticated way than the big guys have. Hoegaerden says it has, and that this makes up its secret sauce — but he can’t tell us about it because the company is filing for a patent. We should note that we did not actually try out the technology, but saw a more extended set of vidoes like the one here. The proof will be in how SoftKinetic does in breaking into the highly competitive gaming industry.

With SoftKinetic, children will be able to dance in front of a video or TV game, for example, and the game will be able to respond to the child, take her through more movements, and congratulate her for her accomplishments. Hoegaerden said the technology, once applied into exercise games, will also be a great way to work out without getting bored.

It has already converted an open source game, Quake, for it to be able use SoftKinetic’s technology. Now it wants to license its software to game studios. Hoegaerden says he’ll also be talking with Microsoft, which could use the technology to develop games for its Xbox, and with Apple, which is a month or so away from delivering its iTV platform. He’s also talking with Sony.

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