As Microsoft Kinect celebrates its first birthday, hands-free motion control system originally developed as an Xbox 360
add-on moves into scientific and commercial applications.
Slideshow: Windows 8 Upgrade Plans: Exclusive Research
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
One year after launching what became the fastest-selling gadget in tech history, Microsoft is taking its Kinect motion control system for the Xbox into fields that go well beyond gaming.
The areas in which the company sees applications for Kinect, which contains an array of sensors that translate users' physical gestures and speech into onscreen actions, include healthcare, education, and high-tech manufacturing.
"It's been an amazing 12 months; it's been absolutely inspiring," said Alex Kipman, a general manager in Microsoft's interactive entertainment business. Microsoft launched Kinect on Oct. 31, 2010 and sold 10 million units in the first six months--the fastest bolt from the gate of any tech gadget, according to Guinness World Records.
[Windows 8 represents Microsoft's most radical departure to date from its standard, icon-based GUI and an InformationWeek survey shows IT is preparing early. Learn more: Windows 8 Upgrade Planning Begins.]
Microsoft is now looking beyond the worlds or Orcs and Avatars to continue build momentum behind Kinect.
A pilot program at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, U.K. shows how Kinect can potentially help individuals who have suffered strokes or other traumas that have left them with impaired mobility.
Patients in the hospital's neurological rehabilitation unit are using Kinect software that requires them to react to onscreen events and commands. The hospital says the exercises are helping them to regain mobility, coordination, and balance.
"When you have a great vision you expect it to do great things, but it's humbling and inspiring to actually see it happen and exceed your expectations in terms of ability--over a very short period of time--that you have affected the entire world," said Kipman.
In another non-gaming application, healthcare tech specialist Tedesys, of Cantabria, Spain, is developing a Kinect-based platform that's meant to allow physicians to operate on patients through remotely controlled instruments--an application that could save lives in disaster areas, battlefields, and other areas that may be physically inaccessible or where it would be too dangerous to send in doctors.
The system could also help reduce bacterial infections transmitted by operating room staff to patients in ORs. "Using Kinect, they can check information on the patient without touching anything, and in this way they can avoid the risk of bacterial infection," said Tedesys COO Jesus Perez.
Numerous companies that represent a number of other industries are also deploying pilot projects around Kinect, according to Microsoft. Toyota, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Razorfish are all among the early adopters. "There is enthusiasm sweeping across a wide range of industries," said Kipman.
To drive commercial development, Microsoft has released a toolkit that helps developers build Kinect awareness into Windows applications. The Kinect for Windows SDK 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.
Microsoft hopes that the promise of hands-free interaction, along with advances in 3-D technology, will lend a new lease on life to Windows PCs and other Windows-powered devices, which, for all the bells and whistles Microsoft has added with new operating system releases, have changed very little in the past decade in terms of basic capabilities. Kinect, now in its second year, could help change that.