Microsoft cultivated its brand decades ago by offering sophisticated computer software that was easy for non-techies to grasp. Users could easily communicate with their computers. Now, Microsoft is attempting to accomplish the reverse: allowing computers to see what its users want.
Last week, Microsoft acquired Canesta, a small chipmaker that manufactures image sensors that enable cameras to view the world in three dimensions. The technology mimics the human eye and allows for users to interact with computers through hand gestures and body movements, or what is commonly referred to as natural user interface (NUI).
Interest in gesture-recognition technology has long been a hot topic. In the coming months, consumer products will be hitting the market that feature hand and motion gesture capabilities in computers, TVs and gaming systems.
No terms of the deal have yet been released, but Microsoft has showed interest in the technology, as it is already featured on its Xbox 360 video game console. With a more advanced chip, Microsoft and its partners could use Canestas technology in PCs, televisions, cars and cell phones with gesture recognition features.
There is little question that within the next decade, we will see natural user interfaces become common for input across all devices, said Jim Spare, Canestas president and chief executive. With Microsofts breadth of scope from enterprise to consumer products, market presence and commitment to NUI, we are confident that our technology will see wide adoption across many applications that embody the full potential of the technology.
Canesta already had a history of pushing its chip into new applications. Honda, for instance, had invested in the company, foreseeing the use of 3D sensors on its cars which could be used to help detect oncoming obstacles. The technology could also be used on the interior of the car, as the sensors could scan the size and body shape of its passengers and adjust a seat and the air bag deflation mechanism accordingly.
Another company which invested in Canesta was Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese laptop manufacturer, which expects to produce laptops with 3D camera modules in the near future.
Manufacturers over the last several decades have incorporated 3D vision systems into its robots. But in recent years, the technology has allowed for easier integration, faster line speed and a more simplified validation process in industries such as packaging or assembly.
Microsoft has a history of partnering with chip manufacturers, such as Intel and Nvidia, and has avoided building its own products. The purchase of Canesta is a sharp shift. But it also might be a response to Apple, which has purchased a wave of chip manufacturers for use in its mobile devices.
Either way, Microsoft sees a rapidly expanding market for gesture-recognition technology and is positioning itself at the very forefront.