3D webcams will help PCs read human emotions, Intel says

Intel's 3D webcams will reach laptops in the second half of this year

Intel wants to bridge the gap between the virtual and real worlds with the help of 3D webcams, which the company hopes will replace the mundane 2D cameras in laptops and tablets by the second half of this year.

The new 3D cameras will be able to go deeper inside images and track depth, similar to how human eyes do, said Mooly Eden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Perceptual Computing Group, during a press conference at the International CES show in Las Vegas on Monday.

Eden showed laptops from Lenovo and Asustek and a hybrid from Dell with the 3D camera. Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Fujitsu will also come out with PCs with 3D cameras, Eden said. The laptops will be released in the second half of this year, an Intel spokeswoman said in an email message. The camera is part of a new family of products from Intel called RealSense.

The depth-sensing capabilities of the 3D cameras will help a computer understand human moods better, and also improve gaming by recognizing gestures, Eden said. As an example, the cameras can recognize lips and determine whether a person is happy.

Videoconferencing could also become more enjoyable with the 3D cameras, Eden said. The camera will be able to recognize faces and bodies, extract the images, and superimpose them in other backgrounds, as videomakers do with green screens. Intel has partnered with Microsoft to bring those capabilities to Skype video-calling software.

Another on-stage example focused on how the 3D cameras could recognize a children's reading habits and make the experience more enjoyable. Through cameras and voice feedback, a computer will be able to understand a child's interactivity levels with books and augment the experience by starting related games. Intel has tied up with children's book publisher Scholastic to develop interactive features using the 3D cameras for series including Clifford the Big Red Dog and I Spy.

The camera is able to identify the dimensions and characteristics of an object by scanning the contours and shapes of items in view. It can sense the distance, size, color and other characteristics of items through infrared and color sensors built into the cameras.

"The real trick is to do it real time," Eden said, adding that more processing power is needed in computing devices for those capabilities.

The 3D camera, combined with voice, touch and gesture recognition, will make human interaction with computers more natural and intuitive, Eden said.

"We want to communicate with the device the same way we communicate with each other," Eden said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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