Future games machines to read your emotions

14 December 2011
By Paul Dempsey
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Sony PS Vita

Sony’s roadmap runs well beyond the soon-to-be-launched PS Vita

Credit: REUTERS

The senior technologist in Sony’s PlayStation division provided a tantalising view of the company’s gaming roadmap at the International Electron Devices Meeting in Washington DC this month.

Masaaki Tsuruta, EVP, Technology Platform and CTO, Sony Computer Entertainment, set out the electronics giant’s requirements for hardware innovation to realise its evolving vision of ‘Interactive Games’. These almost entirely depend on advanced research in the semiconductor community today, rather than ‘blue skies’ work.

Not all of the road map will feature in the next PlayStation – this was explicitly not a specification – but it seems certain that some of it will, and other elements could be added later via peripherals. Some, though, are more long-term.

One of Sony’s most striking goals was advanced haptics that can replicate sensations as specific as stroking a cat. “What we have today is solely based on vibration.” Tsuruta-san then envisaged the use of broader sensor technology that might read vital signs, body heat and facial expressions to gauge a player’s emotions and use them in the context of a game.

Sony also wants to drive still higher display resolutions (towards 8k x 4k) and frame rates (to above 300fps) while reducing response latency for highly immersive games to less than 50ms (we can detect latencies of 10-20ms, but this would still be a major advance).

Tsuruta-san described a number of existing technologies that could be incrementally enhanced to deliver some of his company’s plans relatively soon.

Sony’s new handheld console, the PSVita, goes on sale in Japan this month and in Europe next February. It features a nine-axis accelerometer (3 accelerometers, 3 gyroscopes and 3 magnetometers), but we could soon see a tenth added to sense pressure and increase environmental feedback still further.

In terms of semiconductors, Tsuruta-san picked out emerging ‘through silicon via’ designs. These stack chips with interconnects running vertically through them to reduce length, raise performance and reduce power consumption.

Early use of TSVs has been confined to memories – it is inherently easiest to stack like-on-like – but they represent a potential near-term solution to the challenge of shortening links between gaming’s cutting-edge requirements to combine raw processing muscle with heavy-duty graphics processing and huge amounts of memory. They would also help Sony work towards its latency target.

All these technologies could help Sony further develop the concept of ‘Augmented Reality’, which will be launched in small screen on the Vita. This allows gamers to insert 3D computer-generated figures into their actual environment as viewed though the console display.

Looking further out, Tsuruta-san imagined a version of AR ultimately delivered via see-through 3D glasses, essentially a lightweight stereoscopic head-up display. This, however, will have to wait on the capability to deliver a massive amount of real-time graphics processing locally on a headset and to accurately position virtual truly-3D figures in a dynamically changing environment.

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