PORTLAND, Ore. Emerging consumer electronics applications have prompted smart 3-D sensor chip maker Canesta Inc. to adapt its 3-D CMOS image technology from automotive applications to a new consumer version of its 3-D image processing chip.
The new chip is designed to inject new features into consumer products, ranging from gesture control for TVs to chroma-key image mixing that eliminates the need for a green background screen.
"Apple's iPhone wowed consumers with its capacitive touch screen, and Nintendo's Wii wowed them with its accelerometer," said James Spare, president and CEO of Canesta (Sunnyvale, Calif.). "Judging from the reaction of consumers at the recent [Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas], we believe consumers will be equally wowed by gesture control with our smart 3-D sensor."
At CES last month, Hitachi Consumer Electronics Laboratory demonstrated a gesture-controlled TV based on Canesta's current 3-D sensor. Now, consumer electronics makers are using Canesta's reference design kit to build similar gesture-recognition capabilities into TVs, DVD players, digital video recorders and set-top boxes.
Canesta's new 3-D sensor "will have more pixel resolution, be lower in price and include other features important to consumer electronics companies who are already experimenting with gesture control with our current 3-D sensor," Spare said.
Canesta hopes to ride a wave of gesture standardization--enabling gestures to control devices that currently require separate remote controls--by partnering with software companies that offer manufacturers turnkey gesture routines for their devices. Canesta has so far joined with GestureTek Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), Softkinetic S.A. (Brussels, Belgium) and Edge 3 Technologies (Prescott, Ariz.). Each has a library of gesture algorithms that OEMs can license to build new applications.
The company is also working on other applications for its chips, leveraging their ability to sense depth in a scene. For instance, video cameras with a built-in 3-D sensor could perform automatic chroma-key image mixing. Today, TV weather forecasters stand in front of a green screen that software senses, allowing it to paint a weather map behind the forecaster. Canesta's chip would eliminate the green screen.
Canesta's 3-D sensor is a standard CMOS chip that uses infrared light pulses to calculate the distance to objects reflecting light into each pixel in an image array. Unlike competing technologies like ultrasonic, which only sense distance to the nearest object, Canesta calculates the time-of-flight for IR light traveling from the object to each pixel, thereby creating a depth map that OEMs can use in their recognition algorithms.
Canesta's chip uses a standard 0.18-micron CMOS process. Its first deployed automotive application will likely appear in cars made by Honda, which is an investor in Canesta. However, since gesture control applications currently require no regulatory oversight, consumer products containing its 3-D sensors may appear before automotive applications.
Other companies have targeted 3-D depth perception chips. 3DV Systems (Yokne'am, Israel), for instance, adds a gallium arsenide shutter atop a CMOS image chip in a two-chip solution for automatic depth perception. PrimeSense (Tel-Aviv) uses the parallax between a light pattern and a standard image chip to determine 3-D depth in a scene.
Canesta's patent portfolio also includes: ClearShot technology, which offers the ability to accurately track fast-moving objects; and FarSight, which simultaneously allows both close and distant objects to be ranged accurately.