Sony has endeavored to come to SXSW, the Austin-based technology and culture annual meeting, each year with a warehouse full of weird gadgets, demos, games and other interactive experiences. This year was no different, as Sony yesterday opened the doors in Wow Factory, its name for the wide exhibition that combines art and technology from its experimental program Future Lab based in Japan. Experiences at the Wow Factory tend to focus on Sony's display technology, specifically its advances in projectors that ultimately seem to have manifested themselves as an expensive consumer product called Xperia Touch.
But Sony has not stopped pushing the limits of technology. The central premise is that with a combination of intelligent sensors that perform depth detection and movement tracking with a high quality light source, you can create the closest thing we have to interactive holograms today. Projectors create objects of light that normally exist on a flat plane, either in front of the projector or under a table. You can interact with these virtual objects with your hands, since the projector software can recognize and track your movements. Indeed, Sony has discovered a way to make augmented reality without requiring the use of bulky glasses or silly smart glasses.
Going one step further, Sony has designed custom demos that make use of real-world objects. Sony returned to Austin this year with a collaborative music game that combines four of its projectors into a single cohesive system. With small 3D models of instruments, including a miniature saxophone and a piano, users can work together to play a series of songs directing spotlights to each instrument. The small models printed in 3D are recognized by the software and come to life in the light of the projectors, while other sensors track the movements of the fingers while moving the reflector around the table.
The demonstration is not practical at all, since it requires custom software and custom accessories. And no consumer would spend many thousands of dollars to equip a table with four prototypes of Sony projectors only to perform silly games and technological tests of concepts like this. But it's a really impressive demonstration, as each object placed under the light of the projectors and within the range of the system's sensors comes alive in a way that looks and feels like the closest manifestation of software in the real world.
It is also a great example of how to take an alternative approach to AR. Something like that is more accessible and can be experienced collectively, without it being necessary for everyone to wear a pair of smart glasses, a VR style helmet or even a smartphone compatible with the required software. Sony's approach here is similar to a hologram: it exists physically as light in a three-dimensional space that everyone can see and interact with.
Sony has been working on this technology for a while. It's mostly a marketing trick to show off your experimental hardware, but over the years, we've seen everything this technology allows. We saw Alice & # 39; s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll jump off the page and interact with physical objects like a cup of tea and a deck of cards in 2016, and last year, Sony built an architectural demonstration to showcase use cases business of its projection technology, as the standard block of wood was transformed into a model of a house from top to bottom.
This year, Sony engineers took the lessons that the company acquired with the Xperia Touch and its previous demos to develop a virtual hockey game for three people. The custom circular table is equipped with a standard projector with its new IMX382 image sensor image to track the disc and palettes, while the projector creates a virtual interface that reacts to your physical movements.
We do not know if this technology will ever become a viable current consumer product: the mini-projector that Sony sells now capable of running these AR-style hologram demonstrations costs around $ 1,700. And without a real reason to own one or develop applications for it, it will never take off in the way that AR apps do on iOS and Android, thanks to software frameworks like Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore. But if Sony finds a way to market this technology, it could pave the way for a unique and novel way to create immersive and collaborative AR experiences that can be implemented using everyday objects and something as ordinary as a kitchen table. That's exciting, if it ever leaves the peculiar demonstration phase that exists here in Austin.