Video games taking hands-off approach

Gestural interface technology to be spotlighted at E3

Moviegoers were dazzled nearly a decade ago when Tom Cruise made like an orchestra conductor to operate a computer in "Minority Report." Now, the use of gestural moves as an interface between man and machine is poised to become reality.

Glimpses of such capabilities have appeared during the intervening years -- such as Nintendo's Wii game console, the touch screens on new smartphones and a Toshiba prototype TV set with a gestural interface. But the gaming community will begin tub-thumping such technology in a big way this week at E3.

Recently, Microsoft launched its developing Project Natal, now called Kinect, which aims to eliminate a handheld controller and replace it with a voice- and motion-based control system for Xbox 360. And Sony is slated to promote its Sony Move motion controller for the PlayStation3 during its E3 news conference Tuesday at the Shrine Auditorium.

By the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in January, expect to see gestural interfaces, with varying levels of precision, demonstrated on devices ranging from mobile phones to TV sets.

All essentially are tracking systems realized through different approaches that include the use of external camera devices and/or internal sensors.

"It's a big topic this year," said Richard Marks, a senior researcher at Sony Computer Entertainment. "What happened recently is some of the tracking capabilities became very low-cost and very accurate. So it is possible to package this in a low-cost consumer product. The other part is people want more energy, and that is growing because the accuracy is getting better. You can do more."

Marks expects to see gestural interfaces in mobile devices and TVs at the next CES, but he believes gamers likely will be early adopters.

"Gaming is first in a lot of areas because people want to entertain themselves, and they are willing to deal with technology that is new," he said. "Another reason is the game controller is a barrier to lot of people. They want to participate. The gaming space is actively seeking to remove that barrier."

The Sony Move is a motion-sensitive controller that combines the use of a camera with a controller that has an LED light on one end and additional internal sensors. The technology will be made available as a stand-alone or bundled with a game (several titles are in the works).

The Kinect device combines a 3D camera, RGB camera, multi-array microphone and Microsoft proprietary software. Kinect goes on sale Nov. 4 in North America with at least 15 available games including "Dance Central" and "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved."