Microsoft Unveils Prototype ‘Holodeck’

Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled an amazing new invention that could revolutionize gaming (and, by extension, all digital entertainment) forever.

The new system, dubbed ‘RoomAlive’ was announced at the User Interface Software and Technology conference in Honolulu, Hawaii in front of a group of astounded onlookers.

Essentially, Microsoft have created a prototypical version of Star Trek’s ‘Holodeck’.

For non-Trekkies, the fictional Holodeck is a three-dimensional, fully immersive computer generated environment that is used by the characters in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ (as well as other ‘Trek series), as a recreational hobby, training simulator and sometime logistical tool. Microsoft’s version may not place gamers in a simulated recreation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop, or a gritty, pulp-style detective novel, but the foundation stone of such technology is, believe it or not, actually here.

‘RoomAlive’ technology is powered by six Kinect depth cameras that have each been fitted with special projectors (called ‘Procams’). These cameras are placed at certain strategic points throughout the room and incorporate that room (and the objects within it) into the game. The procams do this by making a quick scan of the room and then creating a 3D model of it. The software is then able to project objects and characters into the room, which players can interact with.

As ‘New Scientist’ magazine’s Jacob Aron reported, the games so far in development include a version of carnival favourite ‘Whack A Mole’, which uses an infrared gun to ‘zap’ characters as they pop up around the room, as well something akin to a life-size version of ‘Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots’, which employs a regular Xbox controller.

Perhaps most exciting, is a game prototype called ‘Mano-a-Mano’, which allows gamers to throw virtual fireballs at each other (presumably developer Hrvoje Benko desperately wanted the ability to perform a ‘Street Fighter’-style ‘Hadouken’ in real life).

For non-nerds, there is also a softer version of ‘Mano’, which substitutes fireballs for tennis balls…The game uses a perspective trick that allows both players to see the virtual objects moving in the air, in real time, just as if they were physically there.

Essentially, ‘RoomAlive’ has the potential to turn your bedroom (or living room) into a 3D video game environment, projecting characters and objects onto all the surfaces of the room (including floors, walls and furniture).

Of course, this technology is a long way from being commercially available, but, by the time it is, you can probably expect it to be even more impressive.

The next generation of video games is on the horizon. Start saving now…