Kinect For Windows Adds Gesture Recognition To PCs, Laptops
Microsoft cosponsors algorithm contest with $200,000 pot to spur development of gesture-based games and other apps.
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Microsoft has formally launched Kinect for Windows, a sensor unit designed to bring gesture-recognition technology first developed for the Xbox gaming system to Windows PCs.
Kinect for Windows, available from channel distributors and electronics retailers such as Amazon, is priced at $249, though Microsoft said it plans to offer special academic pricing of $149 later this year. The unit can work only with gesture-aware applications built with the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit, which currently supports Windows 7.
The Kinect hardware unit features sensors and cameras that capture physical movements and speech. The kit gives software developers the ability to create apps that leverage Kinect's most advanced capabilities, including sound localization, depth and distance interpretation, skeletal tracking, and advanced audio processing.
Recent improvements in the SDK include support for up to four Kinect units on a single PC, a new near mode, which lets Kinect see objects as close as 40 centimeters, and a new Far Talk acoustic model that's designed to improve speech recognition accuracy.
No commercial Windows games currently support the technology, but that could change quickly given the success of Kinect on Xbox. Beyond games, experts in gesture-recognition technology see numerous commercial applicationns in fields such as healthcare, manufacturing, and research.
To boost development of commercial applications, Microsoft, along with Texas Instruments, has co-sponsored a competition in which up to 100 researchers are competing to develop the most effective gesture-recognition algorithms on Kinect.
The goal is to create algorithms capable of so-called one-shot learning, where software learns to recognize a physical gesture, such as waving, after seeing just a single example.
"It's a fundamental operation," said Jeremy Howard, president and chief scientist at Kaggle, which is hosting the competition on its research and big data hosting platform. "It's like building a basic vocabulary of algorithms and libraries that are going to be needed to do things effectively in a commercial environment. Without machine learning, all you have is a string of data."
Microsoft will offer up to $200,000 in intellectual property licenses for Kinect algorithms developed under the One-Shot-Learning Gesture Challenge, which is organized by research group CHALEARN. "There's a lot of potential for developing algorithms for controlling things on your computer that might not be appropriate with a keyboard and mouse, like quickly looking up information" on displays that mimic the system Tom Cruise's character used in Minority Report, said Howard.
Microsoft officials said the company spent millions of dollars in a "cross-Microsoft effort" to port Kinect from the Xbox, where it became the fastest-selling tech gadget of all time.
"Not only did the hardware and software teams work closely together to create an integrated solution, but our support, manufacturing, supply chain, reverse logistics, and account teams have all been working hard to prepare for today's launch," said Kinect for Windows general manager Craig Eisler, in a statement.
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