Rumour: Project Natal struggles to see darker skin

It has been brought into question as to whether Microsoft’s Project Natal struggles to interpret the movements of people with dark skin.

The alarm was first raised when Bitmob first reported on former Newsweek writer N-Gai Croal having difficulties with Microsoft’s controller-less motion-sensing camera:

“When game consultant and former Newsweek writer N’Gai Croal gave [Burnout] a test drive, however, the game had trouble reading his steering actions. The footwork (gas and brakes) worked fine, but Croal couldn’t steer his car at all,” Bitmob writes.

“It wasn’t clear whether this was a problem of calibration differences between Tsunoda and Croal’s very different body types, or if Croal’s crazy dreadlocks threw Natal off. But it was working just fine when Tsunoda was at the ‘wheel.'”

Research has actually been performed on the difficulties that near-infra-red cameras (Project Natal features an infra-red camera) have with dark skin, with the following study finding that the technology does indeed have more difficulty with darker skin:

“NIRS detects light absorbance of haemoglobin chromophores to determine tissue oxygen saturation (StO2). As skin colour is also determined by the presence of chromophores, it is plausible that NIRS signal quality may be affected by dark skin pigmentation.”

“In patients with a dark pigmented skin, NIRS StO2 measurements should be interpreted with caution, as melanin clearly interferes with the quality of the reflected NIRS signal,” the paper concludes.

However, we believe that Microsoft can’t have overlooked this and that there may have been a bug in N-Gai Croal’s demo; especially, since Sugar Ray Leonard, Eric Dickerson, and Willie Gault didn’t appear to have problems with the technology:

As soon as we learn more, we’ll let you know.

[UPDATE] – Microsoft has responded to these concerns in the following story:

Microsoft: Natal will work for all ethnicities at launch