May 20, 2009

Who needs a remote control? With CamSpace you can play interactive games on your computer by making your own controls – even from cardboard. If the Wii gaming system has proven to be the biggest thing in computer gaming since Pac-man, Israel’s Cam-Trax is prepared to go Nintendo, the Wii’s manufacturer, one better; the company’s CamSpace system brings the power of Wii-style gaming interaction to any PC, using a simple webcam and free software.

And with over 30 million Wii systems sold in the US alone, Cam-Trax could be sitting on “the next big thing” to come out of Israel.

“The Wii is a fine system, but we wanted to develop a product that would open interactive gaming to anyone using a computer,” Yaron Tanne, Cam-Trax’s CEO, tells ISRAEL21c.

And that’s exactly what CamSpace has done, posing what could be a serious challenge to international conglomerate Nintendo, which has seen its profits soar as the Wii has bulldozed past other gaming systems, like Sony’s Xbox, to dominate the home video gaming market.

The reason for the Wii’s popularity, of course, is its interactivity. Along with the Wii console, which you hook up to a TV, you get a remote receiver, which monitors the movements of players using the Wii remote control.

The Wii’s software is designed to understand the movements of players waving this remote control around, and those movements control the actions of an avatar on the screen. If you’re playing Wii tennis, for example, your avatar mirrors your strokes, hits and misses.

Camspace relies on the PC’s processor for its interactivity

Wii works through powerful software that allows the system to “understand” the actions of players. Visual cues such as movement, color, background, activity speed, and other inputs are processed together, along with remote control infrared and bluetooth technology to create interaction directly with the Wii console.

CamSpace does what the Wii does, but it does it differently ? and while the Wii does its stuff using a dedicated console and expensive hardware, CamSpace has to rely on the PC’s processor for its interactivity.

This is a tough job, and in order to allow the CamSpace to function efficiently without overtaxing the computer’s processor, much of the controller software was written in Assembly language.

The result is a system that allows users to interact with many games and activities on their computers via their webcam, with the software able to recognize the objects participants use as interactive controllers, based on size, color and background scene.

And unlike the Wii, which requires participants to use a proprietary remote control to control the action, the CamSpace system allows participants to use any object – the more colorful, the better – from post it notes, to plastic maracas.

Efforts redoubled as Wii entered the market

“We were already working on our system when the Wii came out about three years ago, and were a bit shocked to realize that the system was essentially doing the same thing we were working on,” says Tanne. “There was some concern that there would be a negative impact on our product, but in the end we realized that the Wii would only help us, as it would raise consciousness among the public for an interactive system.

“At the time, we didn’t have a finished product yet, and instead of allowing the Wii to discourage us, we redoubled our efforts in order to finish our product,” he says.

The appeal is clear. Wii users have to spend hundreds of dollars on the gaming console, the remote control, and proprietary games. CamSpace users on the other hand simply download the free software, install it, and then “interact generically with just about any activity on your computer,” says Tanne.

In the year and a half since its release, CamSpace has garnered about 160,000 downloads, says Tanne. Right now, there are dozens of downloadable interactive games with which CamSpace technology has already been integrated – and the company is on the verge of its next big thing.

“We will soon have a site where users will be able to play interactive games online, without the need to download or install anything,” says Tanne. In addition, CamSpace is planning to export its technology to popular gaming sites, giving even more people the opportunity to interact with their PCs.

Aside from interactive web sites, CamSpace is working on incorporating its technology into other areas.

Opportunities abound from advertising to education

“We see opportunity in a number of areas, such as creating a platform for advertisers to take advantage of interactivity, allowing them to design compelling and exciting campaigns,” says Tanne.

In addition the company is planning to enter the educational market, creating smart physical to PC interfaces for education products. “We also see ourselves working in the media and set-top box space, integrating our interactive technology to provide users with a rich gaming and navigation experience,” says Tanne. “And, of course, we are concentrating on the gaming market, creating virtual controllers for games – both games that we produce and games that are already on the market – both online and offline.”

With Tanne and company clearly designing CamSpace to be a flexible technology, the system could become a premier feature in many settings. And given the popularity of the Wii, it’s clear that there is a huge demand among consumers for an interactive experience.

So is the CamSpace system a “Wii killer?” Tanne says he can’t predict the future, but adds: “With the ability to allow participants to use their webcams in order to control their PCs without having to buy additional expensive equipment, we’re sure that CamSpace will only grow in the future.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director