Jan 032011
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Microsoft has allowed the public to get their hands on its new hands-free games controller for the first time.

The US firm showed off the “Natal” technology, designed for use with its Xbox 360 console, at the European games convention gamescom in Germany.

The controller uses a microphone combined with visual and infrared cameras to control the onscreen action.

It was first unveiled at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles in June this year, but had not been on public display until now.

Kudo Tsunoda, Xbox 360’s general manager and creative director of Natal, said that as consoles evolved from being a dedicated games machine into “living room entertainment”, it was important to develop a new control interface.

“The current controller is a barrier to some people using our console,” he said.

“To many users, the vast array of buttons and analogue sticks is plain confusing.”

Mr Tsunoda said that Natal would allow casual users to use the console while at the same time delivering “extra fidelity to core users”.

Two demos were on show at gamescom for people to try out, including a playable version of Burnout Paradise in which users control cars using an imaginary steering wheel, moving their feet forwards or backwards to control the speed.

Heat maps

At the heart of the Natal system is an infrared sensor that detects a person, their movements and their distance from the sensor.

The device calibrates itself to the room’s temperature and then looks for warm bodies around the room.

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