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IPTV gets hands off
By Sarah Reedy

Jun 18, 2008 12:00 AM

While some companies are focused on redefining the hardware that controls the TV experience, one technology provider is focused on getting rid of the remote entirely. GestureTek, makers of camera-enabled gesture-recognition technology, is using hand-tracking applications and motion sensing to change the way consumers interact with their TV set – as actively or lazily as they want. Speaking today at an ATIS IPTV panel at NXTComm08, Francis MacDougall, CTO and co-founder of GestureTek, outlined how his company can put IPTV into motion.

GestureTek got its start in museums across the country. The company has hand-tracking applications in use on large screens and interactive surfaces, as well as multi-touch platforms that track the body’s movement. Much like the Sony EyeToy, through a Web camera, the company enables customers to input themselves into a game and interact with a virtual world. MacDougall demonstrated a soccer game in which he was the goalie deflecting soccer balls sent his way, as well as a laser-driven game in tune with the body’s movements.

Outside of gaming, GestureTek is partnering with healthcare companies to help stroke patients regain their balance and stability. The company has partnerships with both BT and Telefonica that allow children with limited movement to interact in a virtual environment. On 27 mobile handsets in Japan, GestureTek Mobile also powers interactive games and navigation on maps and Web pages.

In the TV space, the software company is extending its motion sensing expertise to face recognition for advertising tracking applications. The technology lets operators count the number of viewers, recognize if they are watching the screen or looking away and determine demographics like gender and age. That knowledge can then be applied for programming favorites and eventually for targeting ads down to that particular customer.

Hand tracking will also let consumers operate the TV without leaving the couch or picking up a remote. With the swipe of hand, the TV can recognize the user and pull up his or her unique profile and programming preferences. On the flipside, TV watchers can also engage in full-body interactive games like boxing, racing or soccer. Customers can also wave hand to get control of interactive screen savers, Internet thin-client weather pages, stocks or news, monthly access models and links to live HD webcams.

With GestureTek, caller ID on the TV – typically an application that’s lost its allure – even gets cooler with a hand gesture being all that’s needed to answer a call from the TV set. Presenting with executives from Hillcrest Labs and Microsoft Mediaroom, MacDougall said that Motorola is launching a camera accessory for its set-top box line this fall, so he sees a significant opportunity to market his service that way. From a placement in the living room point of view, however, the company is selling USB cameras to enable the technology.

Right now, the cameras are 2D, but the company is getting into the third dimension with infrared technology that bounces across the room and transmits accurate depth information – an ideal scenario for a living room setting. MacDougall added that the company is looking to get as granular as finger-motion recognition, but the issue is contingent on consumers’ ability to adapt to that type of action.

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