Israeli motion-sensing device shakes up gaming industry

PrimeSense’s technology, at the heart of the hit new Microsoft Kinect device, aims to make remote controls obsolete.

November 19, 2010 04:14
3 minute read.
Gamers test out the new Microsoft Kinect device.

Microsoft Kinect gamers 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Computer giant Microsoft announced this week that within 10 days of a November 4 launch date, it has sold 1 million units worldwide of its cutting-edge, hands-free Kinect gaming device.

But less known is that at the heart of the successful release is PrimeSense, a five-year-old Tel Aviv-based start-up company, responsible for the revolutionary 3D motion-sensing camera inside the Kinect. And, in no small part thanks to PrimeSense, the game console is on track to hit 5 million in sales by the end of the year.

“We live in a world in which technology is becoming more and more sophisticated, with an array of applications and features which are complicated and tiresome for the consumer to use, like remote controls and buttons to push. The technology we have developed provides a platform that sees and is unseen and can seamlessly be integrated with other technologies,” said Aviad Maizels, president and founder of Prime- Sense, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

“The idea is that the consumer can use machines and appliances that understand them seamlessly,” he said. “Our vision is that in the future you will see a natural interface which is being adopted everywhere and to every aspect of life.”

Kinect is a sensing device that is plugged into the Xbox 360 and lets consumers play games simply through body motions and speaking commands.

“It’s a great success launch,” Maizels said. “The numbers speak for themselves, and I think they are even better than the launch of the iPhone and the iPad.”

In the US, more than 30,000 stores are selling Kinect, including branches of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Best Buy Co. and GameStop Corp., as well as The device went on sale on November 10 in Europe and on Thursday in much of Asia, and it will hit Japanese markets on Saturday.

Maizels and a team of four – Alexander Shpunt, Ophir Sharon, Tamir Berliner and Dima Rais – all in their 20s and with a passion for games, founded the company in 2005. Before starting PrimeSense, Maizels served in an elite IDF intelligence unit as head of a technological R&D section. Shpunt, the co-founder and chief technology officer of the company, served in an air force R&D unit.

“The idea behind the development of the technology stemmed from a problem we identified, which is on the one hand the complexity of using devices with more and more features and more and more buttons to push and manuals to read, and on the other hand that consumers are making less usage of features since they are not user-friendly,” Maizels said.

“We wanted to find a platform through which it would be natural for people to interact intuitively with their appliances by bringing communication closer to technology. We believe that in the future, the natural interaction trend – where your movements control the gadgets and devices around you – will take over our lives. There’ll be no remote control to lose and no buttons to push.”

Behind PrimeSense’s technology are sensors that enable control of appliances without external devices. In a broader vision of the technology, the idea is that a person sitting on a living room sofa and facing a TV is able to command the screen with a flick of the wrist. In effect, this means that the mouse, touch pad and remote control will become obsolete, as Prime- Sense’s system tracks the user’s hand motions in the air and reacts.

PrimeSense, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv, has raised nearly $30 million from venture capital firms Gemini Capital, Genesis Venture Capital and Canaan Partners. Within five years of its founding, Prime- Sense has expanded its workforce to 130 with offices in North America, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

The Xbox is just the beginning of the big plans PrimeSense is developing. The company intends to license its technology for use with a wide range of applications within the consumer device industry. Prime- Sense is also now looking to expand to partnerships in the television, mobile telephone and Internet industries.

“Soon you will see more and more rollouts of the technology in other domains. We are starting with gaming and then we will move to other aspects of the living room,” Maizels said. “We want to grow to a large, independent company and become a leader of consumer lifestyle.”

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