Image by Getty Images via Daylife Usually when we think about human-machine interaction, we imagine robots acting like regular people but without any emotions. Science fiction has tried to define what the future of these machines that might one day replace humanity will be, but that event doesn't actually seem possible in the next few years. But one industry could be very interesting for the future of human-machine interactions: video games. We had the example of the Wii, released in 2006, which captures your movements with controllers and reproduces them on screen. What Microsoft revealed at last year's E3, the Natal Project, is simply a game changer: with some basic hardware (sensors with infrared signals, HD video camera and microphone), users no longer need controllers to play videogames. What is the trick? As Scientific American revealed a few days ago, there are algorithms developed by Microsoft research in Cambridge, England, that can recognize gestures "by extrapolating from experience" like a human being. The article offers very good insight into the technological challenges of the project. The Natal release is planned for the 2010 holidays and will be the big event for the entire industry. But not only that.

Even more interesting are the consequences Natal could have on UI (user interface) and human-machine interaction: what will controller-free interaction with machines or computers be? A non-human's recognition of moves and gestures could lead to disruptive applications: activation of any machines in the street with certain gestures, industrial-injury prevention for jobs involving high-risk physical movements by humans (transporting chemicals etc), any sport in a virtual playground (the old Pong game for real) or the capacity to pilot a robot, mimicking natural movements (flying, swimming, nuclear disposal etc). It could be the killer technology for Microsoft in a lot of domains where software is key, and could explain the company's long term approach, announced 10 years ago with their entry into the game industry with the Xbox project.

By Matthieu Soule