December 16, 2007, Updated September 13, 2012

The ZCam – based on a time-of-flight scientific principle – sends out infrared pulses that bounce off the player and are reflected back to the camera, where sensors pick up the time it takes for the bounce-backs.Video game enthusiasts will soon enjoy their virtual recreation in a whole new way, with the Israeli development of a real-time motion-capture interface which makes it possible to play computer games without using a controller.

Imaging technology specialists 3DV Systems, based in the Galilee city of Yokneam, have announced the release of the ZCam, which is able to perceive depth and can recognize human gestures, translating movements in the physical world into on-screen action.

“ZCam enables gamers, in a way never before possible, to interact intuitively and naturally with games,” said Zvika Klier, CEO of the company. “We invite content developers to join us in creating a new innovative experience, and are very excited by the reaction of the developer community so far.”

According to 3DV’s Klier, as gamers become the interface, the game design will determine how the inputs work: motion can be navigated simply with a thumb or the entire body can become the controller through three-dimensional movement. The player can be represented in the game with his/her own real-time image and the game can be operated either bare-handed or with a designated object, replacing the need for a control pad.

The ZCam is based on 3DV’s technology which enables cameras to capture the depth dimension of objects in real time, high speed and very high resolution. According to a review of the ZCam in the San Jose Mercury News, the technology – based on a time-of-flight scientific principle – sends out infrared pulses that bounce off the player and are reflected back to the camera, where sensors pick up the time it takes for the bounce-backs.

“The light is captured with a fast, accurate shutter that uses proprietary electro-optical technology developed by 3DV and implemented in a three-piece semiconductor chip set,” wrote the reviewer. “An image sensor picks up the reflected light from the player and measures the distance between the player and the camera. The brighter the light, the closer the object. The darker it is, the farther away. The system corrects for other infrared sources in the room such as remotes.”

3DV’s founders come from a military background with an emphasis in optics. Six years ago, they built a camera that was used by broadcasters to slip in a fake background behind a newscaster. Since then, they’ve been devoted to developing the ZCam. While other possible uses include applications in the automotive and robotics industries, the 10-year-old firm, which employs 45, expects the greatest demand for the product to come from the computer game industry – estimated to be worth more than $30 billion worldwide.

And their intent seems to be on target if initial reaction is any gauge. The Mercury News columnist was evidently duly impressed after trying out the ZCam: “Using a prototype camera with a laptop, Klier showed me how he could fly an airplane using hand gestures. He moved his hands back on an imaginary joystick and the plane on the screen pulled up. He turned his hands and the plane began to bank. He lifted his thumb and pressed down and the plane began shooting its machine guns at an enemy plane. I took over and did the same.”

Klier said that he expects to be able to mass market the ZCam and a game that works with it for less than $100 in the second half of 2008.


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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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