Intel Expands Perceptual Computing Efforts With Omek Buy

Omek’s middleware enables developers to build gesture recognition interfaces into their applications, creating touch-free computing devices.

Intel’s acquisition of Omek Interactive is the latest step in the chip maker’s “perceptual computing” vision.

Intel officials envision a time when users control their computing devices—from PCs to smartphones to other devices—without touching them. Instead, they will use hand gestures or voice commands, an idea being pursued by other tech companies, including Apple and Microsoft.

Omek will be another piece in Intel’s efforts. The company, based in Israel, makes middleware that developers can use to put gesture recognition and tracking interfaces into their applications. Omek’s offerings include Omek Grasp, middleware for gesture control of devices like PCs, cell phones and computers in cars. The interfaces are based on the movement of the user’s hands. Omek Beckon is for interfaces that track body movements and gestures and is aimed at game consoles, digital signage and hands-free TVs.

"The acquisition of Omek Interactive will help increase Intel's capabilities in the delivery of more immersive perceptual computing experiences," Intel spokesman Guy Grimland said in a statement released to news organizations.

News of Intel’s acquisition of Omek surfaced July 16. The chip maker already was an investor in Omek, and Intel reportedly paid between $40 million and $50 million for the company, which was founded in 2006.

Intel officials for several years have been pushing their perceptual computing vision. At the Intel Developer Forum in September 2012, officials talked about the role the company’s “Haswell” chips—which their high performance and graphics capabilities—will play in the effort. Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, said at the show that Ultrabooks soon will offer such features as touch, with Windows 8, wireless charging, voice recognition and gesture recognition.

Intel also released its Perceptual Computing Software Development Kit (SDK) to encourage developers to create hardware and software that will build the perceptual computing ecosystem with such capabilities as gesture interaction and facial and voice recognition to future Core-based Ultrabooks and PCs, and announced a partnership with Nuance to bring its Dragon voice recognition software to Ultrabooks.

Since then, Intel officials have touted the perceptual computing initiative at such venues as the Game Developers Conference in June, and Intel Capital has set aside $100 million to invest in companies that are building software that will further perceptual computing.

Other vendors are looking to expand their reaches into the area of gesture and voice control of computing devices. Apple reportedly is interested in buying another Israel-based company, PrimeSense, which specializes in 3D- and gesture-based technology, though some industry observers dispute the report.

PrimesSense is a partner of Microsoft’s, which licenses PrimeSense’s technology for its Xbox game console and the Kinect motion controller.

In addition, Apple reportedly is working on technology that would enable a user to project a movie they are watching on their iPhone onto a wall, and then use hand gestures to interact with the images. Google-owned Motorola reportedly is readying the release of a smartphone dubbed Moto X that would include the ability to receive voice commands.