Would you like to control your personal computer or TV by moving your hands in the air? On the heels of Leap Motion's announced rollout for its technology, Microsoft is getting its Kinect technology ready for use in computers, TVs and other non-gaming devices.
The company's chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, told a technical gathering in Seattle this week that the long-term aim is to make the game controller as small and as inexpensive as possible, and to include it in a wide range of devices, including laptops, tablets and TVs. He said that this integration will not "happen tomorrow, but we can see a path towards that sort of thing."
At its new Envisioning Center on its main campus, Microsoft demonstrated Kinect embedded into a large-screen TV. The integration featured sensors that are reportedly considerably smaller and thinner than current ones. There were also reports last year that Microsoft was working with computer maker Asus to develop a Windows 8-based, Kinect-equipped laptop, but so far there has been no substantiation.
Greater Kinect Precision
One startup, Leap Motion, has announced a deal with Asus, which will be releasing high-end computers later this year with Leap Motion's highly precise gestural technology. Leap Motion has also announced that its controller and software will go on sale in May for $80.
One of Leap Motion's key advantages is its precise control, with in-the-air separate tracking of each of 10 fingers and each hand, and resolution up to 1/100th of a millimeter. The company has said its technology is as much as 200 times more sensitive than other motion-control systems. Recently, Microsoft Research demonstrated a greater precision for Kinect that can allow multi-touch capability and such functions as pinch-to-zoom.
Aside from the size and cost of Kinect, there are some other hurdles to overcome. For instance, Kinect is infrared based, which means that it does not work well if sunlight is present.
Touchscreen Versus Kinect
Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, noted that gestural interaction technologies are also being developed by other companies, such as PointGrab. But the key questions are not about the technology, but about the use cases and the usability.
He pointed out that, for a desktop or laptop computer, or for a device, it's probably easier to simply reach out and touch the screen than to keep your gesture confined to the air in front. Gestural interaction becomes more natural, Rubin said, "in a midrange environment, such as a TV in a living room."
On the question of whether arm fatigue becomes an issue for either free-form gestures or touchscreens, Rubin said that fatigue "is more of an issue for touch" than Kinect-like gestures. He also predicted that there could be a use for gestural control in businesses, not only to control screens on walls, but for a "more natural interaction for manipulation" -- not unlike the interaction shown in the movie Minority Report.