Although Project Natal likely won't be released until later in the year, Microsoft is already looking into new gaming control schemes. Tech blog TechFlash has spotted two US Patent and Trademark Office applications that may go one step further than the controller-less, camera-based motion-sensing system--by directly reading electric impulses from gamers' muscles.
Both patent filings are based on electromyography (EMG), which is the practice of reading the electrical signals sent out by a person's muscles via electrodes. One patent application, filed in March 2009, describes "wearable electromyography-based controllers for human-computer interface" that could be "implemented as an armband, a wristwatch, eyeglasses, an article of clothing worn by the user (such as a shirt, gloves, shoes, pants, headband, etc." Another application, filed in June 2008, is for a similar EMG array for the forearm only.
While the EMG patents' game applications might sound theoretical, Microsoft has actually posted a video of the technology in action on YouTube. After briefly showing how forearm-mounted electrodes can read muscle activity in fingertips, the demonstrator then plays what appears to be Guitar Hero II without a controller, air guitar style. He then rolls back his sleeve to show the color-coded EMG sensors, which are presumably part of a prototype unit.
According to the video, the technology is being jointly developed by Microsoft, the University of Washington, and the University of Toronto.