Nov. 7, 2011
by Mark Ollig
It has been one year since Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console scored a big hit with its motion-sensing “Kinect” add-on device.
Kinect is a combination of the words “kinetic” and “connect.”
Kinect was originally announced to the public as Project Natal, during the June 1, 2009 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), by the famous filmmaker, Steven Spielberg.
The Kinect device (which holds the Guinness World Record as the fastest-selling consumer electronic device), allows users of the Xbox 360 home entertainment and video game system, to become more physically immersed in them, by using hand gestures, spoken commands, and physical movements.
Instead of video game players using hand-held controllers, the player’s themselves physically (and vocally) become the controllers and communicate with Kinect, which is attached to the Xbox 360 console.
Kinect provides Xbox 360 game users with a more engaging playing experience, via its full-body sensor tracking of the participating players.
Just step in front of the Kinect device’s sensors and it will recognize you, and respond to your gestures, vocal commands, and movements.
Kinect’s human “skeletal” sensor tracking system monitors the movements of up to six people.
Kinect can track 20 separate physical skeletal joint movements of two active players.
The two active players can be shown as live avatars on the Xbox 360 games display screen.
Kinect includes four microphones, supports single speaker voice recognition, and can locate the source of sounds around it.
Processing power for Kinect is obtained by using one of the three Xbox 360 console Xenon CPU processor cores.
Microsoft is employing Kinect’s technology with the Xbox 360 console, and moving it into real-world applications.
Microsoft, in their Oct. 31 press release, stated that the new commercial version of Kinect, which they call “Kinect Effect” will give “. . . businesses the tools to develop applications that not only could improve their own operations, but potentially revolutionize entire industries.”
Microsoft’s concept video demonstrating commercial uses for Kinect is viewable at http://tinyurl.com/3gnlxam.
Microsoft’s website showed real-life examples of how Kinect technology has improved the quality of life for people who are overcoming physical challenges.
In one example, persons with learning challenges at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (across the pond in the UK) were shown using the Xbox Kinect system as part of their rehabilitation exercises.
People in the hospital’s neurological rehab unit are being matched to specific interactive Kinect game titles, depending on the severity of their learning challenge.
The hospital also says the games have helped stroke patients physically, improving their balance, mobility, and coordination.
Another beneficial example of applying Kinect technology is at the Lakeside Center for Autism in Issaquah, WA.
The Lakeside staff uses Kinect technology in its therapy and skill-building programs.
Lakeside uses Kinect’s motion-sensor capabilities to observe patients' motor skills, and by using Kinect’s voice-recognition technology, improvements can be made in a patient’s social interaction and language development.
In Cantabria, Spain, some resourceful inventors at a technology start-up, called Tedesys, are developing applications using Kinect technology that will allow doctors to obtain vital patient information – while operating on them.
Because surgeries can last for hours, a doctor may need to look up details on a certain operating procedure, or obtain information from an MRI or CAT scan.
In these instances, the doctor would need to leave the sterile operating room environment to get the information – and then re-scrub, in order to come back into the operating room.
Using the Tedesys-developed Kinect application, the doctor is now able to simply use hand gestures or voice commands to look at information hands-free – without ever having to leave the operating room.
“Using Microsoft Kinect, they [doctors]can check information on the patient without touching anything, and in this way they can avoid [the risk] of bacterial infection,” said Jesus Perez, Tedesys’s chief operating officer.
After enabling the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope using Kinect’s Windows Software Development Kit (beta version), a Microsoft researcher, demonstrated how he could easily maneuver around our galaxy with just a wave of his hand.
Another Microsoft demonstration showed an ordinary lounge chair atop an electrically motorized wheeled platform. The wheeled platform was drivable using hand-gesturing motions from the person seated in the chair using Kinect technology.
“I think it opens up this realm of new experiences that are all about kinetics, not only physically-immersive games, but all kinds of new experiences,” said Jeremy Gibson, a game design instructor at the University of Southern California.
Gibson also suggested the main reason Kinect has moved from the living room into real-world uses, is because of how widely available the advanced technology is.
In his classroom, Gibson teaches game design and game prototyping. He and his colleagues teach students to develop applications using Kinect on the Xbox 360. Gibson says this gives the students hands-on experience using the new technology before they “enter the real world.”
In what began as an Xbox 360 gaming add-on device, Kinect technology is quickly evolving into some very useful, real-world applications that are improving the quality of people’s lives.
To learn more about the Kinect Effect, go to http://tinyurl.com/42o862h.
About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.