Sakai: We imagined several ways to use the camera sensor, but inevitably, there were few truly essential applications on a television, and one used in a living room, at that. We also sought interactive applications that somehow seem entertaining, not just convenient. This thinking led to Distance Alert and Position Control.
Distance Alert automatically blacks out the picture and beeps if children sit too close to the screen. Although children might be tempted to sit closer to see better, it would diminish the viewing experience. This feature keeps them a safe distance from the screen.
Interestingly, Distance Alert does not rely on a distance sensor. Instead, distance is judged by the size of the viewer's face. In other words, this is another application of face recognition. You may wonder how this works, because everyone's face is a different size, but our testing revealed that the difference in detected face size due to relative distance from the screen is effective in estimating how far away viewers are. Even at the prototype stage, the camera sensor detected children sitting within a meter from the screen with very high precision.
Okada: Although the benefit of Distance Alert is clear, if the screen suddenly blacks out and the set starts beeping, it's people who would be turned off by this feature. We thought that if we could visually demonstrate how it works, people would understand better and appreciate the feature. This motivated us to design the on-screen display for Distance Alert. As people approach the set, one icon after another in a row of three child icons is illuminated, from blue to green to red. At a distance of about a meter, the red icon is lit prominently and a warning is displayed. It's just like a traffic signal.
Sakai: Another feature, Position Control, also determines viewer distance by face size. Distance and position information enable automatic adjustment of the soundstage and picture quality for optimal viewing. People nearly six meters away can be detected, which is an ample range for most family living rooms.
Oba: How should products respond to our behavior? This has been a longstanding topic in design, and one often considered in pursuit of better usability. At Sony, though, better usability is only the start. Our early exploration of interaction design was also driven by a desire for products that are pleasantly surprising or emotionally engaging. As mentioned, Sony research centers and business groups understand and support this work, which has helped us introduce these features in products on the market today.
Even with our notable progress so far, the Intelligent Presence Sensor stands out as a unique achievement. Conventional wisdom has dictated the need for intentional human action in order to trigger some kind of product reaction. This project diverges from convention because the product takes the initiative after recognizing unmeditated behavior. It seems to me that this kind of interaction will be the focus of more development in the future.
We're confident that with the Intelligent Presence Sensor, we've laid a new cornerstone to build innovative interaction between products and people.