PrimeSense, which developed the 3D sensing technology used in Microsoft's Kinect, is set to unveil a compact 3D sensor that can fit into a variety of consumer electronic devices.
The Capri 1.25 embedded 3D sensor is around one-tenth the size of PrimeSense's current generation of 3D sensors, the Israeli company said Tuesday in a press release. Capri has improved 3D sensing algorithms, it said.
The company will showcase the new sensor at the International CES in January and expects to have samples ready for manufacturers by the middle of 2013.
No price has been announced yet, but PrimeSense described the sensor as low cost. The company hopes that it will be integrated in future laptops, TVs, tablets, smartphones and other consumer electronics.
Analysts believe the mobile market is interested in such sensors, especially because of their potential to enhance user interfaces.
Apple's control through patents over many elements of touch-based user interfaces discourages competitors from innovating in this area, Malik Saadi, principal analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, said Wednesday. Many vendors are looking into alternatives, like touch-free gesture recognition that can be facilitated by 3D sensors, he said.
For example, Samsung is looking at gesture recognition and will probably be deploying it next year or soon after, Saadi said.
Mobile chip maker Qualcomm recently announced that it acquired certain assets of EPOS Development, a developer of ultrasound positioning technologies that can be used for different types of input, including gesture recognition. Qualcomm plans to incorporate some of EPOS's technologies into its Snapdragon SoC (system on a chip) platform that is used in many smartphones.
Voice and gesture recognition are key to the future of smartphones, Saadi said. The combination of touch with voice and gesture recognition will very likely lead to a superior user experience and innovative application development, he said.
"Any efforts to add new user interface capabilities are increasingly important as smartphones all start to look the same, with the homogeneous monoblock touch screen being the dominant design of the industry now," said Ben Wood, chief of research at telecommunication analyst group CCS Insight.
"If this module [PrimeSense's new 3D sensor] allows for innovative new user experiences then it will certainly be an interesting development for phone and tablet makers and even other consumer electronics, because gestures are becoming a more important way of interacting with devices," Wood said.