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Is RealSense™ the Wave of the Future?

The reason that so many people rely on Hollywood movies (and before that, visionary authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells) to shape their vision of the future is because creative visionaries imagine what is possible, and not what is probable. When you don’t put limits on your creativity, and have no boundaries or walls, then the sky is literally the limit.

Now Intel® has taken up the war cry to imagine without boundaries, and the company is doing it with a new technological dogma known as RealSense™. RealSense™ is the future—it is a system that involves real-time 3D cameras integrated into everyday products, including laptops and computers, which allow you to scan faces and objects and implement them into readily available apps and programs. The RealSense™ initiative is also heavily integrated with 3D hand gestures to control basic computer functions: imagine a movie you’ve seen where characters move digital files in mid-air by just swiping with their hands. Minority Report, meet Intel® RealSense™.

Now take that technology and multiply across different and diverse genres. Drawing in mid-air. Moving numbers on a spreadsheet in mid-air. Integrating yourself into your favorite video games. Going through your photos and editing, cataloguing, and creating albums with simple hand gestures. That’s pretty much the point of the new RealSense™ movement. It’s manifest destiny for technology.

What is RealSense™ Technology?

Let’s not forget that this is Intel® we’re talking about. The leader in chip manufacturing technology, Intel® has for years concentrated on the engine of the world’s best laptops and desktops but, this year, Intel® has put its chips (no pun intended) into a different pot: technical ideology. They want a world that most have only imagined until now, a world of human and robotic integration, a world of adaptive artificial Intelligence that is a lot less scary and lot more practical than the menacing AI dreamed up in Hollywood. They want the efficient and helpful sci-fi future we dreamed about, and they want it now.

How are they going to get it? RealSense™ will give it to them. By integrating a 3D camera into computers and laptops, Intel® will shoot for natural interaction, immersive hands-on 3D effects, and collaboration between fun and business. How is this done? Basically, the RealSense™ camera system uses three lenses: a conventional camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector. Separately, these are all good things that sound like they have great potential, but working with each other, they enable you to bounce infrared light from objects in front of the camera, which lets the camera detect depth in those objects. Combined with proprietary motion-tracking software, this information allows you to create an interface that responds to hand, arm, and head motions. It uses 22 tracking points per hand, so you can interact with your computer in a far more natural way than before.

This is the Internet of Things that you keep hearing about.

Want the ability to 3D scan a floor plan and share it with your interior decorator over video chat, while having them design the layout of your furniture, without either of you being in the same room? How about a 3D scan of a human heart so a doctor in New Jersey can teach intricate surgical techniques to medical students in Botswana? Add to this the ability for RealSense™ technology to scan directly from your device, without the need of an expensive 3D scanner or peripheral, and then manipulate that image in ways that used to be reserved for high-end animation studios, or even send the image directly to a 3D printer. Send a 3D heart to your students so they have a physical model to work with? Yeah, that’s the technology equivalent of a mic drop. This is the Internet of Things that you keep hearing about.

Here’s another scenario: using the Personify app, you can create virtual workspaces—not just two screens showing you and your partner in different locations, but a true shared workspace where you can see both participants in the chat at the same time, reacting, collaborating and even tutoring each other as you watch their reactions and gauge their responses on one screen.

You can take the image of just your person (not their background) and place it anywhere on the screen. You can then change backgrounds to any image (including a presentation) and then invite all other participants. You can even use this when gaming; invite a friend, and place both your images on the screen (without backgrounds) then go head-to-head. Although this works with a limited number of games, it’s still much more fun to see your opponent wince in fear when you lay the smackdown.

How Will RealSense™ Affect You?

Those are hypothetical “what ifs” that still need an engineer to steer them in the right direction. But Intel® knows that 90% of technical ideology ends with showmanship, and at the IDF 2015 conference, the company debuted some applications that are ready for prime time. Intel® has even joined forces with Google’s Project Tango for an Android smartphone developer kit. Virtual reality on your smartphone is now just around the corner.

At the conference, Intel® showed a robot “butler” called Relay. How does RealSense™ work for Relay? It can navigate a busy environment (like a hotel hallway or kitchen area) without bumping into anyone, and deliver items (in this case, drinks) with apparent ease. Also shown was an enhanced BMX bike that uses RealSense™ tech to identify stunts and tricks, distance covered, and height achieved during a performance. This kind of tech data may lead to better safety gear being developed for a large number of sports.

Intel® RealSense™ also has an extension for Scratch, a free interactive programming module for kids. Scratch uses all of the RealSense™ abilities, like face and gesture tracking, voice commands, and more, but overlays them on a simplified GUI in which kids use their imagination, and not complex coding skills, to create RealSense™-like applications.

A great deal of effort is going into the gaming side of 3D. The IDF conference showed developers scanning a person into a 3D game, and that person literally became part of the game, controlled by the gestures, expressions, and commands of the person being scanned. To that end, Intel® also announced partnerships with two leading Twitch streamers—the XSplit Gamecaster and OBS—to integrate RealSense™ into gamers streaming broadcasts. Does this mean the end of YouTube play-throughs with a small in-screen broadcaster going through play-by-play? Probably not, but how much more exciting would it be for gamers to stream a Twitch broadcast with the ability to integrate themselves into the game play and point out hidden areas, secrets, and tips and tricks? Very, we’re thinking.

The possibilities are endless. You can sit at a laptop and scan your image into a screen, then put that image into any retailer’s digital file and see yourself as the model for clothing, sporting goods, and more. Want to see what that little black dress looks like in red? Scan and play with it. Want to see what you look like tearing down the slopes of Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe? Scan it and play with it. Want to see what you look like tearing down the slopes in that little black dress? You see where this can take you.

Products That are Intel® RealSense™ Ready

There is a growing list of products that have Intel RealSense™ cameras built in. Popular laptop models like the Lenovo ThinkPad E550 and ASUS ROG771JM are a couple, as is the Lenovo B3050 and HP Sprout All-in-One computers—but you have to have the laptops and All-in-Ones configured with RealSense™ cameras. Don’t buy a model listed unless it has the Intel® RealSense™ logo on the package.

There are also tablets that will soon contain a RealSense™ camera—the R200 camera, which will combine 2 IR Imagers for depth capture with a 1080p-resolution RGB camera on a single module small enough to fit inside the rear of a detachable or tablet. With depth capture, coupled with color, 6th-generation Intel® Core™ M systems, the R200 can take 3D scans of people and objects to share via social media or print on a 3D printer. These are still being developed, but we should start to see them roll out in the first quarter of 2016.

If you already have a product with a RealSense camera, then you should know that there are more than a dozen apps already available that will help enhance your new 3D experience. Besides a slate of fun 3D games like Carmen Sandiego Returns, Warrior Wave, and LEGO® Portal Racers, there are also more involved 3D gaming experiences like There Came an Echo and Space Astro Blaster. Let’s not forget the productivity software that will make RealSense™ a technology shift and not a toy—apps like the aforementioned Prodigy, Autodesk Pixlr, and the Scratch extension. Along with these are 3D-specific software and apps like Kagura, which turns your body into a musical instrument, or YouCam RX, which enhances your photo and video 3D environments.

Is RealSense™ the wave of the future? It certainly represents the next step for consumer-based 3D technology. The fashion industry, engineering, medical professions, and product-design industries will all find ways to use Intel® RealSense™ to their advantage. Educators, lawyers, the travel industry (imagine placing your client on a beach in Ibiza before they book; half the work is already being done by the technology), and the rest of corporate America may also find that the chat properties alone are worth looking into. As for the rest of us, we will find extravagant ways to place our faces next to a celebrity at the next red carpet event.

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If there were a time machine... Our ancestors would look at us like aliens from another world. It's amazing to see the growth of our technology and how fast things have progressed. Thank you for writing this informative piece. It helped me to understand at a bit slower pace, how fast technology is moving. I hope other find this too.