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As expected, there was plenty of metaverse-related activity at CES 2023, with the highest-profile launch being HTC’s new flagship VIVE XR Elite VR/AR headset. There was also an intriguing announcement from Lenovo — Project Chronos, a camera-based full body motion-capture system that allows you to animate an avatar in the metaverse without the need for a headset or other wearable sensors.
Details on Project Chronos, which is still very much a work in progress, were limited, so ZDNET caught up with Sanjeev Menon, vice president and general manager of the Desktop Business Segment at Lenovo, via email after the show to find out more.
Why do you think similar motion-control technologies have failed to gain widespread traction?
Natural motion-capture technologies are either marker-based using body-tracking sensors or markerless-based using cameras. Deployments of the latter have typically been limited either by complex setup requirements or poor user experience due to low accuracy and high latency.
With the rapid evolution of hardware technology and AI, Project Chronos can push the boundaries to enable near real-time motion capture, allowing new levels of freedom for people to interact and engage within virtual spaces. To that end, we also didn’t want to confine its use to only one scenario, but rather power multiple use cases across different aspects of consumers’ lives.
Whether used for content creation, social gaming, live broadcasting, fitness workouts or something else entirely, the Project Chronos concept is purpose-built to empower a new level of freedom for those who frequent virtual spaces or those who are looking to new technologies to engage with others.
What was the impetus for Lenovo to move wearable-free motion control beyond gaming and into the metaverse with Project Chronos?
With Project Chronos, we are creating a new gateway to the metaverse for people to experience all types of 3D digital spaces in a new way. Since it is a wearable-free experience that mimics one’s natural movements with lifelike avatars, it provides users with an unconventional, immersive experience.
Whether used for virtual fitness, vlogging, gaming, virtual walkthrough, etcetera, our concept will enable people to seamlessly switch between digital worlds, and a rich catalog of options opens the possibilities to faster user adoption.
Is the form factor and specification of the Chronos unit finalized, or are further refinements likely?
We will continue to refine the form factor and specifications based on user experience studies. We will also work with content creators and developers to drive the best fit to power the new scenario experiences.
Why are there only DisplayPort and Mini-DisplayPort connections on the current Chronos unit? Why not HDMI, too?
As the Project Chronos base unit is designed to be paired with an external display, like a large-format monitor or TV, we plan to provide multiple video connectivity options including DisplayPort, Mini-DP and HDMI. Ultimately, we’ll optimize the I/O ports and specifications for the best user experience based on user insights and market realities.
Also, why is a handheld remote control required? Surely any user interaction with the Chronos unit could be via gestures…
By incorporating a handheld remote control with the system, we are giving users the option to switch between body-driven control and a more stationary interaction within virtual environments when preferred.
We want Project Chronos to be as flexible as possible, so that it can meet a multitude of needs and use cases. A remote control provides the agility, and often convenience, needed to accommodate that. As we build out our content partner ecosystem, the remote will also give us more options to allow for compatibility across a greater number of apps where full-body movement may only be recognized in aspects of the application.
How good is the tracking of facial expression and eye movement in Project Chronos? Is more development needed here?
Project Chronos can track facial expressions including the user’s micro facial expression, eye movement, and mouth movement. We’ve achieved this through the adoption of 3D Point Cloud technology that captures more than 50+ active units around a person’s face. It’s an impressive technology that we’re excited to continue exploring in this proof-of-concept stage.
Which Project Chronos use cases are likely to have most appeal?
We are not positioning Project Chronos as a gaming solution currently, but see a lot of potential in all its intended use cases. However, I really think people who currently use motion-capture suits or other wearable devices to control their virtual avatars in the VTuber space will gravitate to this technology because of the freedom it provides. Project Chronos will enable these performers and broadcasters to express themselves through body movement and facial expression that hasn’t been possible without wearable motion sensors of some sort.
Fitness is another area that I think people will see its appeal. The ability for a person in Spain, for example, to take a yoga class with an instructor in Thailand, receive their immediate feedback on form and posture, and be able to emulate what the instructor is doing as if they’re standing right in front of them is powerful, especially when you consider that both individuals can enjoy that experience in a beautiful virtual environment without any additional AR/VR equipment weighing them down.
We also see other scenarios like social chatting or meetings being popular, where people can leverage Project Chronos to interact not only with each other ‘in person’ in the virtual world, but with 3D objects, as well. So, two architects or product designers could meet up and present their creation as a 3D hologram that they can both see in a more immersive way, removing the barriers of time and space.
What will the Project Chronos software ecosystem look like? Will I be able to take my Lenovo avatar into a virtual world created by Meta, Microsoft, Google, HTC, or whoever? Where is Lenovo on the walled garden/open system continuum?
The metaverse is evolving at an incredible pace as more users and experiences come online every day. By merging gaming, media, live events and social media into a new form of interactivity that blends digital and physical, the metaverse is rewriting the rules of the consumer economy.
As such, so too must our technology evolve to adequately solve the needs of its users. To offer our customers the best user experience, cross-device and platform collaboration is needed in the AR/VR space, just as it is in other tech areas, and that’s what we’re working toward achieving as we continue to meet with content creators, developers and service providers to expand on this ecosystem and launch a solution that offers that virtual freedom.
The vision we’re creating through Project Chronos is an open 3D ecosystem where users can take their full-body avatar to any virtual world in the metaverse and be able to control it via natural interaction and body movement without the need for glasses or mocap wearables. That’s why we’re positioning Project Chronos as a gateway to 3D virtual worlds, not only from the hardware capability perspective, but also from the open ecosystem perspective.
When will the next iteration of Project Chronos be demonstrated after CES 2023?
We are finalizing future demonstrations of Project Chronos and will announce the next iteration once it is available.
When will we get an indication of the final product name, release date, and pricing?
The ecosystem is still under development, and we will announce its final name, release date, and pricing when it is further along in its launch preparation.
Lenovo Project Chronos specifications
|Processor||13th-generation Intel Core|
|RAM||up to 32GB|
|Storage||up to 512GB|
|Audio||2 x 6W speakers|
|Camera||RGB camera with ToF|
|Dimensions||284mm x 275mm x 60.6mm|
|Ports||2x USB 3.2, 2x RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet, DC jack, 3x DisplayPort, 4x Mini-DP|
|Wireless||Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6E|
|Software||Chronos (developed by Lenovo)|
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