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MS took "shortcuts" with Kinect

Says creator of rival controller-free tech.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

The creator of little-known motion detection technology iisu reckons Microsoft took "shortcuts" to get Xbox 360 add-on Kinect to market this November.

Softkinetic CEO and founder Michel Tombroff is impressed by Microsoft's marketing of the sensor, but unimpressed by the technology behind it.

"We started working on this [iisu] in 2003," he told Eurogamer.

"It started as a research project in Belgium. I don't know how they [Microsoft] did it on their side, but we've just put a lot of effort and many years of research into solving those problems before going to the market.

"They decided to go to market very quickly so they had to take some shortcuts.

"I will not comment on their behalf, but it took us a long time, so we don't see how anyone else… And it's not because you throw thousands of people at a problem that you solve it easily. Those are very complex problems."

Tombroff, who has partnered with EA Sports for the Tiger Woods series of games and is making his own videogames internally, including a rhythm music game called Silhouette, was referencing problems associated with lag, player detection and occlusion that have dogged Kinect in the run up to its release.

iisu, which claims to be "the most advanced 3D gesture recognition software platform", has solved these problems, Tombroff said.

"I'm very impressed they've [Microsoft] achieved this so quickly and they've been able to launch this initiative," he added.

"For us it's a blessing because now with Microsoft on the market, the market starts. Everybody wants 3D gesture recognition.

"I'm not impressed with the technical result. But I'm impressed by the marketing efforts."

iisu, which Tombroff hopes consumers will be able to buy from shops at the end of the year, is designed to work with non-gaming devices such as tellys and set top boxes, as well as traditional games.

It includes a Kinect-esque webcam and its own "software recognition layer" that supports every platform and 3D camera.

iisu is currently available for developers and console manufacturers who are preparing to launch products that use motion sensing.

"The way we've developed our own middleware solution, we paid a lot of attention to a very reduced lag. We have a lower lag on the software side.

"The camera we've developed uses a completely different technology than Kinect, and for that reason is more efficient with respect to lag, or latency.

"As part of the software solution we've patented, we have The Scene Segmentation, which allows us to recognise users irrespective of their positions, as long as they're in the field of view. It doesn't matter if you're sitting down or standing up.

"When people pass in front of each other or you put your hand in front of your face, the camera loses track of part of your body. We've solved that problem. We can always track your gestures even though you create occlusions.

"We paid a lot of attention to prevent other people from disturbing you. Of course if the person jumps on you and hugs you then that could distract the game. But if the person just sits next to you or stands next to you and watches you, you don't want that person to interfere with the game. We've solved that problem as well."

Tombroff said he would welcome Sony and Microsoft's advances if they wanted to use iisu with the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.

But he refused to say whether he's had talks with Sony about controller-free gaming on the PS3, citing non-disclosure agreements, or with Microsoft about using iisu to improve Kinect.

"We bring a very attractive time to market advantage because we can easily adapt our software and our camera and our content to any of those platforms. That's important.

"If you look back at Sony and look at the evolution, they tried the PlayStation, then the PlayStation Eye, now the motion controllers. It's easy for someone like you who follows the market closely to see where they're going."

Will we see iisu's motion-free tech incorporated into the PS3, or perhaps even the PS4?

"Maybe. As long as I say maybe I don't commit to anything. But yes, maybe."

Have you talked to Sony about this?

"I'm under NDA. I cannot tell you. By saying that, the answer is yes, but we cannot talk about it.

"I'm afraid I cannot comment."

What about Kinect?

"We are developing content for our technology for different cameras and potentially for the Xbox. We have our own tools, our own middleware, we can do a lot of things Kinect cannot do, even on that platform.

"For that reason, I don't mean to criticise Kinect as something that is not good. I'm just saying things can go much better still. It's just the beginning."

Have you talked to Microsoft?

"I cannot say."

PlayStation Move is set for a 15th September release in the UK. Kinect will be released on 10th November.

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