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Microsoft Readies Kinect for Hands-Free Business
Microsoft Readies Kinect for Hands-Free Business

By Barry Levine
October 31, 2011 2:21PM

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Microsoft already has released videos showing computers of the future being controlled by voice and by in-the-air gestural interaction, and there is a general expectation that Microsoft, eager to counter Apple's new Siri voice control for smartphones and potentially other devices, might release Kinect controllers for Windows 8 or beyond.
 

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If you think Microsoft's hands-free Kinect controller is just for video games, think again. The company confirmed Monday that it will start a Kinect for business program early next year.

In a posting on the Official Microsoft Blog, Corporate Vice President Frank X. Shaw wrote that the emerging commercial program recognizes "the intense commercial interest in harnessing the capabilities" of the innovative remote control, which uses motion detection, hand-gestures, and voice recognition to control an electronic device.

'Revolutionize Entire Industries'

A beta Software Developers Kit for academic and non-commercial projects was released in June, and a similar one designed for commercial uses with PCs is expected next year. The commercial program will include a new set of tools and APIs, and Shaw said the results could "revolutionize entire industries."

He noted that the commercial pilot program for the Kinect "has already received more than 200 applications from top companies in more than 20 countries spanning 25 unique industries." Companies investigating commercial applications include Toyota, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Razorfish.

Microsoft is trying to capitalize on what it calls The Kinect Effect, which the company's Xbox Web site described as people "using Kinect in ways we never imagined." Far beyond fighting aliens in video games, those uses include helping autistic children, assisting doctors in the operating room, and much more.

At the Royal Berkshire Hospital in the United Kingdom, for example, the controller is being used in rehabilitation exercises. Patients are matched to games, based on the level of their impairment, and the company said the games have helped to improve balance, coordination, and physical movement.

8 Million in 60 Days

The Lakeside Center for Autism in Issaquah, Wash., has used Kinect to help improve social interaction, language development and motor skills.

A Spanish start-up company, Tedesys, is developing an app that will allow doctors to use the device in the operating room. Instead of having to leave an operating room during surgery to look up patient information on a computer, and then re-scrub to return to surgery, the Tedesys app will allow doctors' to use voice or gesture controls to obtain the information in the operating room.

Microsoft has already released videos showing computers of the future being controlled by voice and by in-the-air gestural interaction, and there is a general expectation that the company, eager to counter Apple's new Siri voice control for smartphones and potentially other devices, might release Kinect controllers for Windows 8 or beyond.

Kinect launched just one year ago, sold 8 million units in its first 60 days on sale, and became the fastest-selling consumer electronics device ever. It uses a motion sensor to track an entire body, so the full body, or parts like arms or legs, can provide input. As the user interacts, Kinect creates what the company calls "a digital skeleton" based on depth data.

There's also facial and other physical data recall, which is stored in a profile, so that Kinect knows who players are. Finally, there are four microphones within the sensor, to enable the recognition and separation of a person's voice from other noises in the room.
 

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