May 07, 2010, 7:30 AM — Last year at E3, Microsoft gave us our first glimpse of Project Natal, their controller-free gaming technology. We expect to see a lot more of Natal at this year's E3 in June, and expect a ship date sometime in the fourth quarter. We also know that Sony has their Playstation Move motion controller coming in Q4, but it isn't really on the same level as Natal since Move, like Nintendo's Wii system, uses a physical controller.
However it turns out Natal isn't quite as unique as first appeared. Yesterday TechCrunch ran a post about Omek Interactive, an Israeli firm that's building a controller-free system, too. Omek's Shadow 2.0 SDK interfaces with a 3D camera that measures depth and filters out background info so that it can track a person's movements, very much like we've seen Natal do. Hand, foot, head and body movements are all tracked pretty accurately. Omek has a demo boxing game that it's using to show off the technology.
Omek's market isn't the Xbox 360 for obvious reasons. Instead they're targeting other set-top boxes, smart TVs and media center PCs. No specific names were mentioned yet, but Omek says the technology is ready to launch now. I'll embed a brief video recorded at Techonomy below, but for a longer interview check the TechCrunch article.
Omek wants to keep their product open to third party developers and available on a variety of platforms, and they hope we'll see "Fueled by Omek" on the front bevel of our future set-top boxes. The idea is that third party developers will make (and presumably sell to us) apps, including games, that you'll play on your set-top box via Omek's software.
So what do you think? Should Microsoft be worried? The demo in this short video is a little bit shaky but the technology seems much more solid in the longer TechCrunch video. Of course Omek is leaving out the voice component (which Natal includes) at least for now. Presumably adding voice recognition wouldn't be an insurmountable challenge for them. So is this a significant challenge to Project Natal? Are you even excited about controller free gaming? Please leave a comment!