Microsoft Acquires Canesta, 3D Tech Patents

Microsoft's acquisition of Canesta gives it access to dozens of patents related to 3D sensing technology. Microsoft's Kinect already leverages tech in this area.

Microsoft plans to acquire Canesta, a maker of 3D sensing technology. Manufacturers can embed Canesta's 3D-image sensor chips and camera modules into a variety of consumer products, ranging from laptops to vehicle dashboards, in order to create gesture-driven natural user interfaces.

"There is little question that within the next decade we will see natural user interfaces become common for input across all devices," Jim Spare, president and CEO of Canesta, wrote in an Oct. 29 statement. "With Microsoft's breadth of scope from enterprise to consumer products, market presence, and commitment to NUI, we are confident that our technology will see wide adoption across many applications that embody the full potential of the technology."

Financial terms were not disclosed. According to an Oct. 29 press release on Canesta's Website, the agreement is slated for completion before the end of 2010.

Canesta's technology gives sensors a "fine-grained, three-dimensional depth perception of the user and environment," according to the company. In addition to consumer products, its patents can also be leveraged in industrial and medical applications.

Microsoft has taken a heightened interest in 3D technology, betting that its new Kinect hands-free controller will give its Xbox 360 console a few more years' worth of marketplace life. Kinect uses a 3D camera to detect players' movements and mirror them to an on-screen avatar. The device can perform full-motion tracking of the human body at 30 frames per second.

However, Microsoft likely wants to leverage that 3D technology into other, non-gaming-related areas. Rumors swirling around Windows 8 suggest that Microsoft is considering features such as facial recognition, which could require a 3D camera module. Embedded devices in car dashboards, powered by Microsoft software, could also have a need for 3D technology.

Microsoft isn't the only company attempting to leverage 3D technology, whether it be gesture-sensitive sensors or 3D displays for devices-from Nintendo and Sony to Sharp and Lenovo, others are intensively working on everything from multimedia 3D laptops to hands-free user interfaces. Much of that technology seems aimed at the consumer space, particularly games, but the benefits of gesture technology could drive development in the industrial, business and medical spaces.

For its part, Microsoft is reportedly betting hundreds of millions of dollars on Kinect's development and marketing. If the unit proves a massive hit, that could help push 3D development in other areas-and give Microsoft a use for Canesta's patents.