Touch control holograms, 3D scanning, auto green screens: We try the Intel RealSense future

Intel showed us its RealSense 3D camera today at an event in London. With it was the best floating, touch controlled "hologram" we've seen in real life. Tony Stark would have been impressed.

The RealSense 3D camera is going to start appearing in computers in the next few months, with eight manufacturers including it in devices. It's like a super sensitive version of Kinect and Leap Motion combined that can detect facial expressions, emotions and detailed hand movements. But the most impressive thing we've seen was the "holographic" display.

The photo above doesn’t do it justice as it appears to be on the glass, in reality it was floating at an angle in mid-air. But when looking at it from side on it becomes invisible so this photo will have to suffice. It works using special glass which channels light, from a laptop screen beneath, up into the air. Then using a RealSense 3D camera finger location can be detected allowing users to "touch" icons floating in the air. It really did feel like science fiction made real.

Unfortunately Intel says it was just a proof of concept on the day. But more positively we were told the hardware and SDK are available for any developer to use. Shop displays, for example, could use these floating images with gesture controls for a germ free way of interacting with product displays. Or on a larger scale, once multi-angle viewing is achieved, this could be an Iron Man style control system for boardrooms where virtual objects are literally flung about the air.

While holographic displays are one future possibility for RealSense it's got plenty of current uses that will change computing soon. One is 3D scanning. Since the camera is so sensitive it's possible to hold an object in front of it, rotate the object, and it will be virtually duplicated.

In the photo above you'll see an Intel creature (right) that was scanned (using a turntable for accurate spinning) and then 3D printed (on a professional 3D printer) to create a different sized replica. The detail is pretty stunning with even the creases getting picked up.

3D scanning is a hugely exciting area that will help bring 3D printing into the mainstream. It also opens up some interesting debates on rights management. How will Lego be able to keep its blocks from being scanned, shared and printed, for example? It's like the era of the MP3 all over again, but for physical objects.

Another smart use for RealSense we were shown was green screening. Since the camera can detect a user's position in relation to their background it can simply cut them out allowing them to project any background. Imagine being in a Skype meeting and projecting your background as the office, while on a beach. Just an idea.

The RealSense camera isn't just about depth as it also has facial recognition smart enough to detect emotion and even heart rate. While Microsoft has claimed the Kinect can do this too we haven't seen many real world examples. We imagine that the RealSense camera, built into the next generation of laptops, will lend its SDK to a lot of software. Over 35,000 developers have already got the SDK. Perhaps one of them is Netflix: it could be planning to detect emotional responses to viewing in order to help refine a user's tastes for better recommendations. Just an idea.

Expect to see the RealSense 3D camera starting to appear in laptops in the coming months. The super slim unit (below) will also be available as a stand-alone device along with the SDK for developers soon - meaning plenty of apps on their way in the near future.