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Microsoft is reported to be buying 3D digital camera company 3DV Systems for $34m, giving it remote gesture recognition technology.

Israel-based 3DV Systems is a venture capital-backed startup that has raised about $38m from investors. The company was founded in 1996 by two Israeli defence industry scientists who had worked on electro-optics technology for missiles. They developed and patented technology that could work out the depth relationships of objects in a digital camera's field of view, in real time with high resolution. This was embodied in a chipset and in the ZCam 3D camera product range, now available in web-cam format.

The DeepC chipset hardware computes the camera's distance from objects it 'sees' using a time-of-flight principle and its technology is described thus: "The Depth information is captured by emitting pulses of infra-red light to all objects in the scene and sensing the reflected light from the surface of each object. All objects in the scene are then arranged in layers according to the distance information sensed by the D pixels in the camera, providing the Depth information in real time as standard black and white video where the grey-level correlates to relative distance. Colour data is provided using a normal colour imaging sensor."

Real time translates to 60 frames per second and the depth resolution is accurate to 1-2cm. The company thinks its technology is appropriate for "PC-based gaming and for background replacement in web-conferencing." One aspect of it is that there is little use made of the host system's CPU.

3DV states that the ZCam: "provides home users [with] revolutionary gesture recognition capabilities in addition to real-time background replacement, enabling them to control video games and personal space through intuitive body gestures and immerse themselves with virtual reality."

The attraction for Microsoft, with its Xbox 360 games console and Surface gesture recognition system, is immediately obvious. XBox360 game players could control the action by moving their hands in front of the device. This would give Microsoft some kind of answer to Nintendo's Wii.

Microsoft said it: "does not comment on rumors or speculation." No-one was available to answer inquiries at 3DV as the employees are away from the office at a company event until Sunday. ®

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