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Analysis

Microsoft Kinect for Windows

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 at 11:07

“Everybody has their eyes on what direct-touch technology can do for people – it’s a very natural way to interact with computing devices and smart glass – and what I think Kinect does is move that realm of interaction into the natural spoken word and gestural interfaces, so that we can start to interact with our computers the way we interact with human beings. That’s the real promise. I think that really takes us to an augmentation experience for the existing computing environment.”

Kinect Pioneers

Qurius Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 application
Asked by Microsoft to create a demo application for Kinect and the Dynamics NAV enterprise-resource planning solution, Qurius spent four weeks developing a Metro-style app that allows an engineer assembling bicycles in a workshop to check inventory and schematics from a distance by using gestures. A hand-controlled cursor can be used to select parts and drill through the options, while sweeping gestures are deployed to navigate through pages. There’s even a step-forwards, step-back gesture to see further details. This is pioneering hands-free interaction at work.

Speech plays a major part in this respect. Microsoft has created specific acoustic models for Kinect for Windows. These work in conjunction with the array microphone and Microsoft’s ongoing speech technology to make spoken-word interaction more accurate and adaptable. “This sort of stuff was pretty hard in the past,” says Zatloukal, “but we’ve invested a lot in both the Kinect side and the speech SDK we’ve included, to make it easy to create both command- and control-style interfaces, as well as truly natural, contextual-based stuff.”

By this, he means Kinect software can be built to work with both speech and gestures, and to put together the whole picture. He explains: “Imagine I were pointing at the screen and I said ‘what’s that?’ The computer already has the context that you and I are human beings, and that we’re interacting with the screen, and that both of us are sitting and I was pointing at a particular photo. That can allow for some exciting new interactions to light up.”

With Kinect, the PC uses vision to support speech recognition, and speech to support what it “sees”. The result should be more intelligent, intuitive user experiences.

Kinect Pioneers

Ubi Interactive
Combine Ubi Interactive’s software with a projector and a Windows PC, and any surface can become an interactive touchscreen. The software compensates for the properties of different surfaces and light conditions, and also works in 3D, using information captured by the depth sensor to know when your fingertip is on the surface, and when it’s hovering above it. More encouragingly, it seems to work accurately, responsively and in great detail, supporting common Windows gestures, and – as the software works with any Windows application – enabling large-scale games of Angry Birds if you want. It’s one of the most exciting early Kinect for Windows apps.

It isn’t difficult to see a synergy between the approach Microsoft has taken with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and the approach it’s adopting with Kinect. Metro’s tiles and gestures seem to be built with Kinect in mind, and there’s clearly the potential to take either Kinect or a Kinect-like device and use it to control Windows 8 on large-scale desktop systems. In fact, you can preview how such a thing might work by looking at the revised 10ft Metro-style interface of the Xbox 360 dashboard.

Microsoft won’t go into details now, and the Metro UI and Start screen aren’t yet controllable by Kinect for Windows in Windows 8. All Zatloukal will say is that “Kinect for Windows already works on the Windows 8 Developer Preview desktop applications and that, as you might expect, is clearly something Microsoft plans to support on our new operating system platforms”.

Taking Kinect to work

There are several things Microsoft must do to make Kinect work on Windows desktop platforms. First, it needs developer support to ensure that Kinect gets killer apps. Second, it needs to find the right hardware to make Kinect as ubiquitous on PCs and laptops as a microphone or webcam. Finally, it needs to ensure Kinect is accurate enough to use.

The first of these is being addressed, thanks to the Kinect for Windows SDK, generous samples and libraries, and the way that Kinect hooks into existing Windows 7 and 8 technologies. “Microsoft has made it extremely easy for people to develop for Kinect,” says NConnex’s Shichao Ou, “at least for the more conventional Natural User Interface scenario.”

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User comments

"it enables our computers to see and hear what we do or say"

Great for venting one's spleen at temperamental kit.

By Alfresco on 12 Nov 2012

Please! fix the print button

By eco_bach on 19 Dec 2012

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on pictures@dennis.co.uk

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