New applications emerging for Kinect

by Bruce Kasanoff on November 19, 2010

During a speech this week in Montreal, I asked the audience a theoretical question. “My company would like to install a few cameras, microphones, motion detectors and language recognition software in your home. In return, we’ll offer you a service you will find very entertaining, for about $150. How many of you would like to accept this service?”

Most people were creeped out, and no one volunteered. Of course, I was describing Kinect for Xbox360, which has sold one million units in 10 days and according to a Microsoft press release “is on pace to hit 5 million by the end of the year.” It is an earth-shaking innovation disguised as a cool toy, and the odds are good it will spawn even more innovation (300,000 Apps in three years) than the iPhone has.

Kinect is important because it signals the first full-blown deployment of sensors into our homes, and – to those who are watching carefully – it signals just how many innovations are now possible.

For example, in Japan there already are soda machines that recognize the approximate age and (hopefully) actual sex of the customer, and then recommend certain drinks. Early news reports suggest such relatively simple recommendations are increasing sales by as much as 30%.

Here are some of the early Kinect results, excerpted from blog and news reports, starting with a video that shows how researchers are teaching Kinect to recognize objects:

OpenKinect is a open community of people interested in making use of the amazing Xbox Kinect hardware with our PCs and other devices. We are working on free, open source libraries that will enable the Kinect to be used with Windows, Linux, and Mac.

MIT researcher Philipp Robbel has mated the Kinect sensor with the iRobot Create Robot kit. Robbel’s creation gets spatial awareness, thanks to the Kinect, letting it analyze and build real time reconstruction of its surroundings for what can be called true sight.

Kinect used for digital puppet show.

Microsoft just announced plans to connect Lync, its unified communications environment to huge enterprises, small businesses, and even home-based consumers and gamers (translation: Kinect.)

UC Davis researcher Oliver Kreylos has figured out how to use Microsoft’s Kinect as a 3D video camera.

Spain-based hacker Hector Martin Cantero, who is known online as “marcan,” released a proof-of-concept video Wednesday night showing the Kinect interfacing with his Linux-based laptop.

Hacked Kinect handles photos, Minority Report style.

Thanks to the recently released open source drivers for the Kinect, it has now been hacked to run on a MacBook Pro running Mac OS X.

Matt Cutts, Google anti-spam expert, just announced a new contest around Kinect. The first $1000 prize goes to the person or team that writes the coolest open-source app, demo, or program using the Kinect. The second prize goes to the person or team that does the most to make it easy to write programs that use the Kinect on Linux.

The Kinect could recognize moods such as frustration, by looking at body posture and adjust games to be easier, suggested researcher Ulf Schwekendiek at NYU-Poly.

One of the cornerstone technologies of Microsoft’s Kinect — the ability to track a person in real time without having them wear sensors and somewhat of a holy grail in Artificial Intelligence — was devised in a research lab in the U.K.

Here’s a list of Kinect games announced so far.

And here’s an example of using Kinect to capture 3D video:

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