(NYT) Microsoft said on Friday that it was buying Canesta, a small Silicon Valley company that specializes in gesture-recognition technology.
Interest in this technology has surged because it lets people control computers and other devices through hand movements and other bodily gyrations, in similar fashion to the systems depicted in futuristic films like “Minority Report.”
Canesta makes chips that, when coupled with a digital camera, give all manner of devices a sense of depth perception for the world around them, letting them “see” in three dimensions.
Neither company disclosed the financial terms.
Next month, Microsoft will begin shipping Kinect, a $150 add-on for its Xbox gaming consoles, which uses gesture recognition to allow people to play games with body motions instead of controllers. Players flick through menus with waves of the hand and then move to make their on-screen avatars run, jump, duck, swing and dance. The 3-D technology in Kinect is from PrimeSense, a Canesta rival.
In a recent interview, Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, discussed the company’s plans to advance the gesture technology well beyond video games. “I’m excited to be way out in front and want to push the pedal on that,” Mr. Ballmer said.
Using Canesta’s technology, Microsoft and its partners could equip PCs, televisions, cars, cellphones and other devices with gesture recognition features.
Canesta has spent 11 years building chips that process images and information about distances to give devices some 3-D oomph.
Honda has invested in the company with the hopes of putting 3-D sensors into cars that could help them to detect obstacles. It could also use the technology to see the size and body shape of a person in a seat and adjust the way an air bag inflates.
Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese company that manufactures laptops for many of the major brands, has also invested in Canesta and expects to build laptops this year with 3-D camera modules. Manufacturers use the technology to give robots on their assembly lines some visual smarts.
“We have a really broad mission to enable everyday devices with the ability to see, and enable natural user interfaces across all kinds of devices,” said James Spare, chief executive of Canesta, who is a former Microsoft executive. “There is no other company more committed to natural user interfaces than Microsoft,” Mr. Spare added.
Canesta’s investors have poured about $60 million into the company over the years.
Analysts have described PrimeSense’s technology as cheaper to put in place than that of Canesta. However, they have also said that Canesta should be able to build less expensive and more sophisticated products over time because it designs a very specialized type of chip geared toward the 3-D recognition jobs.
Last year, Microsoft acquired 3DV systems, a company with similar gesture recognition technology. That deal coupled with the Canesta purchase may prevent competitors from acquiring these 3-D abilities and cut off potential intellectual property squabbles. Canesta has secured 44 patents in this area and has more pending.
Historically, Microsoft has worked with chip partners like Intel and Nvidia rather than building its own products, so the Canesta purchase is something of a shift.