updated 03:30 pm EDT, Mon June 1, 2009
Microsoft Project Natal
Microsoft this afternoon unveiled a technology meant for the Xbox 360 but which is also a technology first. Nicknamed Project Natal, the system uses a camera to detect a player's entire body movement. It can not only recognize limbs and posture but is intelligent enough to distinguish between active players and those in the background. It also has a microphone and recognizes voice commands, effectively creating a true hands-free game console.
The control allows obvious visual parallels in games, such as grabbing a steering wheel to drive, fighting with punches or painting with hand gestures. However, it can equally be used for the main Xbox interface by swiping through menus with hands. Face detection lets players auto sign-in just by standing in front of the camera.
Microsoft has provided few more concrete details of software, prices or other features. It says only that Project Natal developer kits are being made available today and that both current as well as future Xbox 360s will work with the peripheral.
The add-on is a conscious attempt to compete with the popularity of the Nintendo Wii but also represents a significant jump in natural control for computer interfaces. At the company's E3 press conference, game developer Peter Molyneux and others explained that Natal removes the learning curve for using a device as owners don't have to memorize the buttons for physical peripherals.