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Project Natal Kinect® is a video game input system capable of sensing motion that was developed by Microsoft®. The technology was first introduced simply as Project Natal and was given the name Kinect® when it was released to the public. Unlike other motion sensing devices and peripherals released in the same generation of gaming hardware, Project Natal Kinect® requires no physical controller to operate. Instead, the infrared (IR) camera is able to use a type of stereoscopic depth sensing to locate the individual body parts of a human player and then track them in real time. In addition to the camera technology, Kinect® units also include microphones and software that can allow voice control.
The three main components that make up Project Natal Kinect® are a depth-sensing camera device, a microphone and a software suite. A base station unit that is typically mounted in front of or on top of a television contains the camera array and microphone, and the software must be installed on an Xbox 360™ video game system. Though the base station includes various logic circuits, much of the processing necessary to track movement in three dimensions and process voice commands is actually performed by the Xbox 360®.
Of the two cameras that each Project Natal Kinect® unit possesses, one is essentially a webcam capable of capturing regular visible images. These images can be displayed on the screen, incorporated into a game, or even used for video chat. The other camera is actually an infrared sensor capable of determining depth. In order to determine where a person is standing and track his movements, the IR camera can send out a semi-random array of points in addition to a fixed set. These two are then compared to create a stereoscopic image without the need for two IR cameras.
Some games that are designed for the Kinect® will only function with motion controls, while others are designed for traditional controllers but will provide the user with an option to switch over if one of the devices is connected. The system is capable of recognizing multiple people at once for cooperative and competitive play, though this can require a substantial amount of physical space. Project Natal Kinect® is also capable of recognizing gestural commands outside the constraints of games, allowing users to access many of the functions of an Xbox 360™ without a physical controller.
In addition to the cameras, each Project Natal Kinect® base station also includes a microphone array. This microphone can be used for voice chat in and out of games, but it is also used as an in-game control device. In the same way that many games use both analog control sticks and buttons, it is possible for Kinect® to accept both gestural and voice commands in one game. Voice commands are also available outside games in the same way that gestural control is.