Softkinetic are a 3D vision company specialising in depth-sensing technologies, specifically ToF (Time of Flight) laser-based systems. Now, Sony have announced it has acquired the Belgian company, provoking speculation that we might see the company’s tech used for hand-tracking alongside Sony’s forthcoming PlayStation VR system for PlayStation 4.
Time of Flight (ToF) is a technique used to measure the distance to and from a point of a real world object. “ToF distance measurement pixels, which are laid on top of the sensor in two dimensions, measure the flight time (delay) it takes for light to leave the light source, reflect off the object, and return to the image sensor.”
It’s been some time since we’ve heard from Softkinetic. Back in 2014, their then VP of Content & Applications, told us how their Senz3D device can detect “…an interactive volume encompassing the user. It’s able to track the hands and fingertips from any position or orientation, which provides a more comfortable way of interacting with the screen.”
Now, electronics giant have seemingly taken a distinct interest in the Belgian outfit and their tech as Sony has announced they have completed the acquisition of Softkinetic Systems, bringing them and their technology wholly under the Sony company umbrella.
Sony have long used camera and computer vision to enhance their gaming experiences. They were one of the first to explore augmented reality in living room gaming with the PS Eye camera and this lead to research resulting in the ‘ahead-of-its-time’, optically tracked motion controller, PlayStation Move. This of course then lead to years of research which produced Project Morpheus, the PS4 based virtual reality technology which again leverages optical techniques (glowing LEDs on the headset) for 360 degrees of positional tracking.
Ben Lang went hands-on with Softkinetic’s technology back at CES2014, and said “When I checked out SoftKinetic’s cube building demo, I noticed immediately an extra sense of presence when greeted by my own virtual hands moving like a mirror of the real world.”
Sony said of the move “Sony will focus on combining Softkinetic’s ToF range image sensor technology expertise with its own technologies with the aim of developing the next generation of range image sensors and solutions, not only in the field of imaging, but for broader sensing-related applications as well.”
It’s clear than that Softkinetic’s development path aligns neatly with a lot of Sony R&D, and may mean that they’re plans for virtual reality control, moving beyond the excellent but ultimately limited PS Move controllers, include hand tracking. VR input is of course a hot topic, and once the first generation of PlayStation VR systems ship in Q2 2016, R&D pacing on input will rapidly increase. Once second the generation VR headset arrives, more naturalistic ways to interact with virtual reality environments may well be the norm, which makes this a smart move on the part of Sony.