Kinect: Microsoft's Accidental Success Story
MIT researchers built a working version of the user interface from the Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report, which involves computer control via very fine hand and finger gestures.
Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute created an elegant system for controlling a Windows PC with in-the-air hand gestures.
One "Kinect hacker" invented a motion-controlled sound-and-laser system that enables an on-stage performer to control an audio track and laser lights just by moving around. The laser beams can imitate the performer's motion or respond to gesture-based commands, and the sounds mirror the movement of the lights.
A Portugese scientist created a shopping cart system called the wi-GO for people in wheelchairs that follows the user around automatically.
A team of researchers at Sweden's Lulea University of Technology invented an autonomous wheelchair for the blind. The wheelchair contains a map of its surroundings, which it uses to navigate. But it can also avoid obstacles and people.
French researchers are working on a Kinect-based system for reading sign language. The user signs, and the system translates it into written or spoken language.
UC Berkeley scientists created an autonomous flying robot using Kinect. The system's software can detect the floor, which it uses to know its own altitude, as well as objects and most importantly researchers to avoid flying into them.
Researchers at Technical University Munich used Kinect to enable a robot to shop and cook. Their custom software identifies the locations of products on a shelf, as well as ingredients on a counter, or cooking tools like pots, pans, spoons and so on.
Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania even taught a robot to read signs and posters using Kinect. The Kinect hardware is used to identify the signs, and compensate for different reading angles, which enables better optical character recognition.
Not bad for a cheap gaming peripheral.
Microsoft has an amazingly hot product on their hands, and something even better: A hot platform.
There's no question that in-air gesture-based interfaces will be huge in the future. Microsoft's lead is so vast, and so many people have already invested so much time and effort mastering the system, that it's unlikely anyone will catch them.
Microsoft is helping out with SDKs. But to truly exploit this once-in-a-generation opportunity, Microsoft should be funding hot Kinect projects, awarding grants to Kinect-based academic researchers and giving away Kinect units to inventors like candy. And Microsoft should wait and see who builds what, then buy the companies with technology that can be integrated into either Xbox or Windows.
Nobody should have to tell the company's motion-gaming division the obvious truth: Microsoft needs to make the right moves if it wants to win. And so far, so good.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike's List.