Omek Interactive wants to put you in the game…and in the TV…and in the computer. The Israel based company has developed Shadow SDK, a middlewarepackage that enables 3D gesture technology for all types of home media. With Shadow, third party developers can create realistic video games where your body becomes the controller, or it can be used to create gesture controlled TV/media centers, or computer interfaces. Omek Interactive demoed some great applications fueled by Shadow at Techonomy 2010. Check out them out along with CEO Janine Kutliroff’s presentation in the video below.
It looks like the human computer interface of the future could be the open air. Ive seen some pretty cool gesture systems that only require a camera and a person’s body to control various media devices. The incredible interface from Minority Report is going to arrive in the next few years, gesture TVs are coming to the market soon (“the end of 2010″), and Microsoft’s Project Natal should be available at about the same time. Because Shadow enabled applications can work with video games, it’s often compared to Natal. Both can give you real-time control of an avatar, as you’ll see in the following:
Kutliroff’s speech ends around 5:40 followed by a media room gesture control application, a demonstration of an avatar (7:43), and a pretty neat-looking boxing game (8:43).
Of course one of the big differences between Project Natal and Shadow is that you’ll only ever see Natal on the Xbox or other Microsoft platforms. Shadow might be popping up everywhere. At least, that’s what Kutliroff and Omek seemed to be aiming for. Other companies in the gesture control business are focusing on a single application (Toshiba/Hitachi for TVs and home media, g-speak for computers, and Project Natal for video games). Omek Interactive isn’t married to one particular kind of hardware and they’re definitely trying to court a plurality of application developing firms. While they’ve created some interesting demo games and applications, Kutliroff’s presentation clings to the middleware status. Shadow is, after all, a SDK. Omek is poised to enable third party developers to build the next generation of gesture controlled technologies. Probably in video games, but possibly for TVs and computers as well.
The only question I have is whether the products that would sandwich Shadow (the 3D cameras on one side, and the gesture enabled applications on the other) are actually ready. We’ve seen some depth-perceptive cameras on the market (such as the 3D stereoscopic webcam from Minoru) but they are far from ubiquitous. Likewise, there’s been some good buzz surrounding gesture TVs and Project Natal’s video games but neither is actually on sale yet. This is an emerging market, and while the possibilities for gesture controls are very promising there’s no guarantee they’ll be popular. Omek could be caught as the middleman between two types of products that never get off the ground.
I must admit that part of my skepticism stems from the fact that gesture controls are not my favorite of the technologies contending to be the next major human-computer interface. As fun as it may be to play a movie with the flip of a wrist, or use your entire body to play a virtual boxing match, these applications lack tactile feedback. There’s nothing to hold. Nothing physical to let you know that you’re actually interacting with something. To me, for gesture controls to really succeed they’ll need some sort of haptics. I’d be totally cool with flailing my limbs through the open air if I could actually feel when my virtual self was hitting something.
Still, my personal preferences aside, the entire body monitoring control scheme seems to be grabbing a lot of attention. Omek Interactive is making a great move by racing to become the definitive middleware solution in the field. If the public does become interested in gesture technology, the Shadow SDK could get some major use. It would let companies that are good at making hardware, and companies that are good at making applications (i.e. games) focus on their strengths while Omek knits them together. That’s a smart strategy and a sure way to enable innovation. It will likely take several years before we know whether gesture controls are here to stay, but Omek is certainly a name to watch while we figure it all out.