Microsoft “Natal” technology – the dawn of a new age in ergonomics?

In an interesting development, Microsoft has publicly shown at 2009 E3 a next generation games system controller labelled ‘Natal‘ that is free of buttons and joysticks; the controller is essentially you. It relies on a sophisticated camera detection system to monitor the user’s motion and translate this motion into games controls. It also has a voice recognition engine. In an article on the BBC news site entitled ‘Microsoft previews new controller‘ a video shows a demonstration.

The reason that developments like this are exciting is that the games business, being a cutting edge, technologically advanced industry, usually pushes the boundaries of software and hardware development for the sake of market share.

Technology like this for, say, computer controls would ordinarily evolve a lot slower if there were a lesser need for it aside  from gaming. However, once developed, you can see how it could easily transform into some kind of gesture control for computer operating systems and applications. Who knows, you may even get a workout whilst doing a spreadsheet in the future!  Will a workout mat eventually replace the old desk?  Maybe we can eliminate the need for going to a gym!  Do employers only hire fit people in the future?

We are certainly at a crossroads with computers, where the basic mouse has been around too long and has created too many overuse injuries. It is more than time that we took computer input to a new level of evolution, and this may be the glimpse of what’s to come.

Whether this technology can save us from RSI related injuries is unknown, but it may help wean us off using a mouse. It may also lead to opportunities in computer use for people with all kinds of different disabilities, and not just RSI.

Is this the dawn of a new age in computer ergonomics, or is it just a gimmick ?

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