BRAVIA televisions with an Intelligent Presence Sensor detect the viewer's face and respond in a variety of ways. This dynamic makes them seem more "human" than previous televisions. As sets continue to gain features, Sony designers show us where next-gen televisions should be heading.
Oba: The Intelligent Presence Sensor was proposed by the Sony Creative Center and developed with our Home Entertainment Business Group. It's a facet of interaction design work, as we study people's behavior and product responses, creating pleasant experiences and perhaps some pleasant surprises.
At the time this project began, the television market already seemed mature, and it was increasingly difficult to develop distinctive products. Still, within the company there was a renewed commitment to our environmental initiatives, which was driving a steady stream of related R&D and design proposals. With this mature market environment, our heightened environmental awareness at Sony, and advances in image processing all simmering in my mind, I hit on the idea of applying face recognition in televisions.
You may know how face recognition works in digital cameras. Televisions with this ability can interact with us in more sophisticated ways than sets limited to infrared sensors can. Imagine a viewer sitting in front of the set who looks down to read a newspaper. Infrared sensors couldn't tell if the viewer is still watching TV or not, but with face recognition, the set determines that the viewer is not watching, which can trigger the screen to be turned off and help save energy. Now that screens are generally larger, energy consumption by televisions has become a greater concern. Enabling viewers to fine-tune their power-saving plan would be a definite advantage.
But with an idea of this nature that we hoped would prove valuable in society, we had to consider the release timing carefully. Wait too long, and other companies might beat us to market; introduce it too soon, and people wouldn't fully appreciate the significance. I felt confident it was exactly the right time.
Oba: Our team's first task was to make a prototype for an internal presentation, because we thought the most immediate and memorable way to showcase the Intelligent Presence Sensor would be for our colleagues to experience it firsthand instead of reading about it. Fortunately, from the stage of conceptual design, we had taken advantage of expertise in sensors and face recognition algorithms at an advanced design studio of ours in Harajuku (specializing in space, time, and emotive product qualities), which helped us make a working prototype quickly.
Sawai: Although still a prototype, it made quite an impact. Once someone sat down in front of the television, their face was recognized by the built-in camera, and the picture smoothly faded in. When they turned away or hid their face, the set determined that they were no longer watching, and the audio remained on as the picture faded out. I remember how it made everyone at the demonstration smile. Someone even joked that the set was alive. This level of interactivity was simply unprecedented in a television. I knew then that we were covering new ground in the ties between people and electronics.