SAN JOSE, Calif. Sony Corp. will make a video interface available for the Playstation 2 game console next year as part of a $49 option that will include an MPEG camera and about 20 game titles. The add-on is Sony's first effort to expand the audience for its its popular videogame system by creating new interfaces to attract younger and older users.
The camera's software will mix video images of an individual user with computer graphics to allow players to battle kung fu characters, play animated stereo systems or wash windows. In future games, users will wield passive colored styrofoam balls, plastic swords or gloves as a way to interact with characters, cast spells or control the action in a videogame scene.
Sony released a developer's kit to game makers last year to build these capabilities into future Playstation 2 titles. The video input is based on a low-cost derivative of a standard USB Web camera made by Omnivision Technologies Inc., which sends MPEG I-frames to the Playstation 2.
Sony hopes the interface and games that use it will expand its audience beyond 13-to-24-year-old males and attract children as young as three as well as older adults.
"I really believe with video input you can create much more realistic systems," said Richard Marks, manager of special R&D projects for Sony Computer Entertainment. "You will see games that let people experience themselves in the special effects they see in movies. We are just getting started with using gestures as input."
Looking beyond the Playstation 2, Marks said Sony is still writing specifications for its next-generation processor, dubbed the Cell processor, which is being co-developed with IBM Microelectronics and Toshiba Corp. The SIMD-based CPU will be required to output composited video and graphics, but also be able to read that displayed data to perform further processing on it, Marks said.
Brain wave interface
Sony's moves with the Cell processor and Playstation 2 were among several advances presented Monday (July 29) at a conference on user interface design at the Almaden, Calif. campus of IBM Research. In a separate presentation, Kevin Wheeler, a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center, showed prototype work on interfaces based on tracking a user's muscle movements and brain waves.
NASA is experimenting with using muscle sensing electrodes or electromyogram (EMG) devices for a number of applications. EMGs could be used to let astronauts type by moving their fingers inside a bulky space suit when it is not feasible to use a keyboard. EMGs could also be used for robotic controllers or for silent communications based on reading lip movements.
Electroencephalograms (EEG) or brain waves are being explored by NASA for possible use in controlling a two-dimensional cursor. The signals could also warn astronauts when they are too tired to continue a job, such as a space walk.
"Ultimately EEGs are best used for discrete tasks and EMGs are better for continuous control mechanisms," said Wheeler.
One enabler for both approaches is a new kind of non-contact electrode that could be sewn into clothes such as a space suit or a helmet. "These are elements we have just gotten our hands on in the labs within the last few weeks," Wheeler said.
Separately, IBM showed a novel layout for a tiny on-screen keyboard that it claims can accelerate text input on a PDA. Users can type at about 30 words per minute on the keyboard, which is about 50 percent faster than a standard Qwerty on-screen keyboard, and about twice as fast as input via handwriting recognition programs, said Barton Smith, a research staff member at IBM.
Optimizing text input for handheld systems will continue to be a subject of research interest for several years, Smith said, because research has shown interfaces based on voice recognition are still many years away.
A small software development firm showed a novel interface for cellphones that organized all information by people with whom the user communicates rather than showing distinct applications such as an address book, calendar and messaging applications. The work was based on a user interface prototyped for phones Ericsson hopes to sell in China.
"We don't use documents, folders or applications," said Heiko Sacher of Point Forward Inc. (Redwood City, Calif.). "We think it's better to use a person as an object or the main view in an interface. Our goal is improving the quality of the content and the communications for the user."
Versions of the interface are also being tested in the United States and in Europe, Sacher said.