Project Natal a Reality: a Wiimote Sans Remote

The Nintendo Wii's Wiimote has brought innovation to gaming, by allowing players to swing a tennis racket, a baseball bat, and perform other gaming motions while holding the Wiimote. But what if you didn't need to hold a controller at all? Enter Project Natal.

On Monday, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Microsoft unveiled a number of things, but the most interesting, to me, was Project Natal. Rumored for several months, as opposed to a controller, it's a sensor, that allows you to make gaming moves simply by moving in front of the sensor. As described in a Microsoft press release:
Unveiled for the first time to the public was “Project Natal,” pronounced “nuh-tall” and a code name for a revolutionary new way to play, no controller required. See a ball? Kick it, hit it, trap it or catch it. If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips or speak, you and your friends can jump into the fun. The only experience needed is life experience.

Compatible with any Xbox 360 system, the “Project Natal” sensor is the world’s first to combine an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device. Unlike 2-D cameras and controllers, “Project Natal” tracks your full body movement in 3-D, while responding to commands, directions and even a shift of emotion in your voice.

In addition, unlike other devices, the “Project Natal” sensor is not light-dependent. It can recognize you just by looking at your face, and it doesn’t just react to key words but understands what you’re saying. Call a play in a football game, and players will actually respond. Want to log onto Xbox LIVE? Simply step in front of the sensor.

“The next step in interactive entertainment is to make the controller disappear,” said Steven Spielberg, visionary director and producer. “With ‘Project Natal,’ we’ll see games that bring everyone together through technology that actually recognizes us.”
Project Natal uses a camera and microphone bar above the user's television. This is similar to the Wii's remote sensor, but Project Natal does not require anything similar to the Wiimote. At the same time, it still allows gestural control, and adds voice command, and facial recognition.  Here's a quick video demo of Project Natal:

And speaking of facial recognition, you'll won't have to sign into your Live account; instead, the system will know who is playing through facial recognition.  Unfortunately for those looking for a Wii-ish experience on the Xbox 360, Microsoft says Project Natal won't be released during 2009.