$2,000 is the current bounty for free/open Microsoft Kinect drivers (via Adafruit Industries), which really jarred some memories for me.  Whatever happened to ‘Hands Free 3D‘ – the “prototypical interface” that enabled the control of virtual worlds “hands free” …without a mouse or keyboard?  Competitors for the bounty might be wise to look it up.

Although the first ‘Hands Free 3D’ announcements came in early 2008, the last I heard about it was sometime around November, 2008, in a brief Twitter relay with Mitch Kapor – co-designer of Hands Free 3D, who told me they had “contributed code (as open source) to Linden Lab.  So if cameras come out, people can pick up where we left off.”

Microsoft’s Kinect was announced the following year – on June 1, 2009 at E3 2009 under the code name “Project Natal” – as a ” magic box” that would need to “track people at 30 frames per second, recognise them, understand how they move, and incorporate voice recognition — and all in ways that could enhance the game experience. ”  They go on to say, ” there was just one problem: this hadn’t yet been done anywhere in the world.”

Maybe… it depends on how you look at it, I guess.  I’m sure there were lots of hands-free controllers in development at the time, but Second Life definitely had robust voice integration when Hands Free 3D was operational, and 30 frames per second was certainly possible on dedicated hardware.  Could it have enhanced the game experience?  Absolutely.

Despite recent layoffs at Linden Lab, the co-developer of Hands-Free, Philippe Bossut, still works for the Lab (according to his LindedIn profile, anyway,) which brings me full circle…

What ever happened to Hands Free 3D?  If open source code was contributed, where is it now?  Is it anything like Kinect?  It sure looked like it was.  Is there hope for a Hands-Free controller for virtual worlds?  Can we, in fact, pick up where they left off?


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