Sony Buys Gesture-Tracker And 3D-Sensor Maker, SoftKinetic

Sony has announced it has acquired Belgium-based SoftKinetic, a maker of 3D sensing computer vision technologies including Kinect-style depth cameras, CMOS depth chips and gesture-tracking middleware.

The price of the acquisition is not being disclosed but Sony said it does not expect it to have a material impact on its consolidated financial results for the fiscal year ending March 31 2016.

SoftKinetic’s time-of-flight (ToF) range image sensor technology measures distance between the sensor and a light source to an physical object via the flight time delay of the light.

The sensing tech could be used to support interactions between the wearer of augmented reality devices or VR headsets and real world objects, by, for instance, enabling the headset to know when the wearer is approaching or handling real-world objects.

For its part Sony has a pair of AR glasses in the works, called SmartEyeglass. It is also working on a virtual reality headset — now called Playstation VR (which TC got eyes on with earlier this year).  So there are obvious applications for SoftKinetic’s 3D sensing, context-aware technologies in the current Sony product roadmap.

Sony said it will focus on combining SoftKinetic’s ToF range image sensor technology with its own technologies — “with the aim of developing the next generation of range image sensors and solutions, not only in the field of imaging, but for broader sensing-related applications as well”.

SoftKinetic was founded in 2007. The company has collaborated with Sony previously, bringing its 3D gesture recognition middleware to game titles on the PS4. It has also been working with 3D printer maker MakerBot developing 3D scanning products.

As well as gaming use cases, the company touts hands-free interaction and digital marketing use-cases for its 3D sensing tech — such as gesture control interfaces for smart TVs or in-car applications, or a virtual try-on experience for clothes shopping.