Kinect For Windows: Beyond Games And Gorilla Arms
Category: Operating systems, Peripherals, Desktop PCs
Last March, Guinness World Records declared that Microsoft's Kinect motion analysis attachment for the Xbox 360 game console was the fastest selling consumer electronics device on record. Microsoft took advantage of the Kinect's continued buzz by making a version for PCs named Kinect for Windows. It should start shipping in the next week.
Kinect for Windows looks exactly like Kinect for Xbox 360 with the exception of the labeling on the front of the device. Kinect for Windows has the same lenses as Kinect for Xbox 360. The main difference between the two devices is in the firmware. Kinect for Xbox 360 requires players to stand at least six feet away to visually analyze the person's body movements. Kinect for Windows' Near Mode, on the other hand, has a minimal optimal distance of just 19 inches, with graceful degradation to about 16 inches. Near Mode is what makes Xbox for Windows usable in a typical desktop environment. The Kinect technology is able to detect motion, track a person's skeletal arrangement (arm positions, up and down movements, etc.), recognize faces, and do speech recognition using an array of built-in microphones.
So, what can you do with Kinect for Windows after spending $249.99 and bringing it home? For the moment, not much, unless you're a software developer. As the Microsoft Store product page states, "The Kinect for Windows sensor unit is intended to be used with the Kinect for Windows Commercial SDK . Note: The sensor unit does not ship with any software, and will only operate with an application developed for Kinect for Windows."
However, developers have had access to beta releases of the Kinect for Windows SDK since June 2011. So we should soon see at least a few proof-of-concept, freeware, and commercial software applications for Kinect for Windows soon.
What else is in store? The Microsoft Kinect project gallery provides examples for education, fashion, medical applications, and entertainment. But what about you? Can Kinect for Windows make a difference at your work desk? The answer to this question can be found in a Microsoft concept video from 2009, a full year before Kinect for Xbox 360 was released.
The video, released by Microsoft Office Labs, showed a variety of ways to interact with computers. These included touch-based mobile devices, large touch-based Microsoft Surface-type devices, and touchless (air) gestures. Microsoft was well aware that air gestures are the answer to the well-known "gorilla arms syndrome," which the late Steve Jobs said made touchscreens on notebooks or desktop computers a bad idea. Gorilla arms are the fatigue that sets in when you have to repeatedly reach out to touch a screen, which is an unnatural way to interact with a computer.
Kinect for Windows does not require touching. Imagine flicking through Web pages or documents, zooming into or expanding an image, or pausing video or audio playback with simple hand gestures. Walking away from your computer could be a command to set your computer to lock and sleep until your return. That's what we can expect from Kinect for Windows.
Of course, Kinect for Windows is more of a promise than a consumer product right now. Its relatively large size might make placing it on a desktop a problem for some people. It's impractical as a travel companion for a laptop. However, it's only a matter of time until we see smaller versions that can be mounted on a notebook's screen or integrated into right into the lid. This is what happened with webcams, and it's reasonable to expect the same for Kinect.
Name: Kinect for Windows
Xbox and Kinect are well-known as gaming hardware, but Microsoft has business applications in mind for Kinect. The company has released a developer-targeted Kinect for Windows with which we can expect to see built many strange and innovative gesture-oriented applications.Price: $249.99.
- Potentially useful way to interact with computers.
- Based on familiar technology and gesture metaphors for Kinect for Xbox 360 users.
- Relatively expensive.
- Might take up too much space on some cluttered desks.
- No killer software yet.
Todd Ogasawara is a Contributing Editor for BYTE.Follow Todd Ogasawara and BYTE on Twitter and Google+: