Intel developing depth camera for next-gen notebooks


— 6:00 AM on June 6, 2013

During an event at Computex this week, Intel VP Kirk Skaugen revealed that the chip giant has been quietly working on camera technology. It's engineered a webcam/depth camera combo small enough to fit inside the screen bezels on modern notebooks. We can look forward to seeing the unit in systems starting in the second half of 2014, Skaugen said.

The camera fits nicely with the "perceptual computing" effort Intel introduced at IDF last year. You won't have to wait until 2014 to get a taste of what's possible, though. Skaugen also introduced Creative's Senz depth camera, which is due to hit retail shelves in the third quarter. Software written for the Creative product will be fully supported by Intel's own camera unit. Developers can apparently get early access, too. Intel is selling the camera as part of a developer kit for $149.

At 4.3" x 2" x 2.1", the Senz is far too bulky to fit inside a laptop bezel. However, you can clip it on top of one.

The Creative camera combines a 720p webcam with a lower-resolution, 340x240 depth sensor. Data is captured at 30 FPS, and the range is 0.5-3.25 feet. Audio is piped into the system via dual microphones.

When it's released to the public, the Senz will be bundled with a handful of optimized applications, including a Perceptual Pack for Portal 2. Intel demoed the gesture-infused version of the game, and the Senz did a good job of tracking subtle hand movements. That said, controlling Portal 2 with an outstretched hand also looked fairly awkward—and potentially tiring for extended sessions.

Webcam-based motion tracking is probably best suited to quick gestures—preferably with a wide enough field of view to watch one's hands when they're sitting just above the keyboard. Unfortunately, the SDK datasheet says the Senz's FOV is only 73°.

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