PMD's Nimble UX platform gives computers super accurate touchless gesture controls

Most of us are familiar with touchless gesture controls, thanks to the efforts of Leap Motion, SoftKinetic, PrimeSense and others. PMD, however, is a name you may not be familiar with, despite the fact that the German firm has been building some of the most accurate and robust depth sensing technology in the world for around a decade. The reason for its low profile? PMD's technology has been used almost exclusively in industrial and automotive settings... until now.

The company began exploring consumer products back in 2009, and we saw its first consumer reference design sensor, the CamBoard Pico, last year at Computex. Now, the company's back with its sensor camera and a new gesture control platform for both Mac and PC, called Nimble UX. Nimble has three parts -- the first, as mentioned, is a depth-sensing camera. Next is the Nimble PMD SDK that gives developers access to the depth information gathered by the sensor and tools to help them build gesture-based applications. Finally, there's the Nimble dashboard, which is a plug-and-play bit of software that implements touchless gesture controls for Windows 8. We got to see Nimble UX for ourselves and chat with the folks from PMD to see what sets their technology apart from the competition, so join us after the break to learn more.

So, you've seen Elon Musk designing rocket parts with the Leap, and you've seen the gaming and hacking powers of Kinect firsthand, too, so what makes PMD's gesture camera technology so special? Well, first off, each of the pixels on the sensor capture depth information by measuring the brightness of the reflected light, as opposed to other solutions that extrapolate and estimate depth information. Those same pixels are also able to subtract ambient light on an individual basis, which enables the sensor to work outdoors or in almost any lighting conditions. Furthermore, each individual pixel also knows when it's not providing the highest quality depth measurements -- and because the Nimble UX provides a depth map to developers, those devs can set differing thresholds of quality for when they choose to use a given pixel's data. Additionally, PMD's sensor solution is fully integrated on a single chip, as opposed to multi-chip designs from elsewhere, which means it's smaller and more efficient in operation.

We got to see a demo the Nimble SDK using a CamBoard Pico S connected to a Windows laptop that basically amounted to a digital replication of our hands onscreen. The movements were tracked with aplomb, and we noticed no occlusion problems as we rotated our hands around each other. It wasn't perfect, but the team at PMD is still working on the SDK middleware to get all the kinks sorted before it's released in January. The result of PMD's work currently is, in effect, close to our experience with Leap Motion -- it can detect very fine movements, but with the occasional hiccup and slight stutter every now and again.

When used in conjunction with Windows 8 via the Nimble Dashboard, the technology shined. Because the sensor is mounted at the base of your laptop's display, it can see very slight movements above the keyboard and the code allows it to differentiate between regular keystrokes and touchpad inputs with high accuracy -- meaning you don't have to wave your hands around high above the machine. Instead, you can keep your wrists resting upon the keyboard deck as they normally would when typing, and simply point at the screen to use Nimble to navigate your way around Windows. During our brief demo, the platform worked surprisingly well. So well, in fact, we'd say it's the first implementation of touchless controls we could see catching on with users, simply because it's an intuitive way to interact with Windows 8, and it prevents the arm fatigue that usually comes part and parcel with using gesture interfaces.

For now, PMD's plan is to build the most stable and dev-friendly platform it can to best enable the Nimble UX to improve the way that we interact with our computers. Sound good? Developer kits will be available beginning next month, and you can sign up to get one at the source link.