Can you ‘shake the pepper’ with Natal?

Wouldn’t you know that just as I was about to start translating/transcribing another VR interview about, I came across a video of Microsoft’s Natal project.

Launched yesterday, the project’s already generating buzz. I’ve read some critical speculation in the blogosphere about whether the scenarios shown in the video are feasible or not. What do you think? journalist Lev Grossman explains how Natal works:

What they came up with is a kind of self-contained module that you add onto your Xbox 360. It has a video camera in it that tracks where your body is and what you’re doing with it. It also has a monochrome camera (it works with infrared) that reads depth — how far away your body and its component parts are — and a highly specialized microphone that can pick up voice commands. Along with all this hardware, it’s got a ton of software that tells the Xbox how to find your body’s various joints (it tracks 48 of them), how to keep track of multiple players at the same time, how to tell your Hawaiian shirt apart from the colorful wallpaper behind you, and so on. Microsoft even did an acoustic study of living rooms, so Project Natal can tell when you’re talking, when your buddies are talking and when somebody in the game is talking, so it knows whom to take voice commands from.

I can’t help but think about my chat with Christophe Chartier published in Equipping Our VR Future. He said:

If we want the development of VR equipment to be really mainstream the technology must be transparent. So forget set-ups including specialized gloves and headsets, which are today’s emblems of virtual reality equipment. In my opinion they won’t permit the mass deployment of VR technology. The set-up should integrate with the home environment, and for this we need equipment that’s more and more intelligent.

I think Natal will bring us a step closer. Yet it’s not quite in line with David Nahon’s description that VR is about,

Sensing and acting, perceiving and acting in the virtual world with your body.

After all, you’re sensing and perceiving in your living room, no matter how large the screen.

I’d certainly like to try it out though. ‘Beats my Intellivision days! Although I’m not sure I could play BurgerTime on Natal. Shake that pepper!