7 areas beyond gaming where Kinect could play a role

How Kinect could apply to art, education, health and other domains.

Kinect
Kinect for Xbox 360. Image courtesy Microsoft/Xbox press kit.

I recently had the opportunity to put Microsoft’s Kinect to the test. While the device may prove to be a financial success (it seems well on its way), my takeaway was all about sense, not dollars.

For the first time in my adult life, I played a video game with one of my parents and we both enjoyed the experience. The parent in question was able to interact with the set-top box without navigating a dozen different buttons on complicated controllers. Some of my younger relatives took to the interface like otters learning to swim.

Kinect, at this stage, isn’t perfect. As the Wall Street Journal and Engadget noted in reviews, a controller is still needed to access certain menus or functions, and accuracy-focused tasks that involve manipulating objects don’t work all that well.

Glitches aside, after using Kinect it’s clear to me that the device’s full potential isn’t bound only to games. What caught and held my attention was the device’s gestural user interface, or what Microsoft research scientist Craig Mundie more specifically described to Computerworld as Kinect’s “natural user interface.”

Joe Sinicki summarized Kinect’s broader influence in his review: “The main draw of Kinect is not what it does now, but what developers may be able to do with it in the future.” Given OpenKinect, a set of open source drivers that unlocks the device’s potential, the developer opportunities are considerable.

With that as a backdrop, here are a few ways Kinect could leap beyond its gaming applications.

1. Health and medicine

Chris Niehaus, director of U.S. public sector innovation at Microsoft, blogged at length about Kinect applications in telemedicine, neurological processes, physical therapy and medical training. While Niehaus has a strong motive to highlight the best of Kinect, his post explores the concept well.

R.O.G.E.R. shows how Kinect can be applied to post-stroke patients. For a sense of how motion gaming has already made an impact in this direction, recall the stories about veterans undergoing “Wii-hab” last year, or the cybertherapy pilots underway at various militaries.

2. Special needs children and adults

Look no further than the story of Kinect and John Yan’s four-year-old autistic son for a real-world example of how a different interface can literally open up new worlds. Research into computerized gaming and autism already reveals the potential for mirroring applications to improve facial recognition. Kinect hacks might take this further.

3. Exercise

This one has no technical angle at all. It may be a bit too hopeful to think Kinect, Wii, and PlayStation’s Move will get overweight children moving. But given the rates of childhood obesity, moving kids from sedentary to active would be a clear win for everything but the living room furniture. That benefit might even extend to parents and seniors.

4. Education

Educational technology has grown in recent years through electronic publishing, learning management systems, and new models for virtual degrees earned online. Will Kinect’s video and interface allow for distributed teaching? That’s admittedly speculative, but education is an area to watch.

5. Participatory art

This interactive, Kinect-based puppet prototype is just the beginning. As the Kinect platform matures, groups of people dancing in public and private spaces could explore new art forms that blend virtual and physical spaces. Flash mobs could get a lot more distributed.

6. Advertising and e-commerce

The Kinect can already detect multiple people in field. The Xbox 360 already enables users to watch live and recorded sports on ESPN. As more intelligence is built into the platform, combining those two capacities could go far beyond changing channels. It could lead to recognizing different users, profiles and creating a more interactive watching experience. Early integration with Twitter and Facebook are a start, but they don’t lend themselves to fully socializing the experience. Neither does Microsoft’s Live community, though it’s not hard to imagine that feature evolving into a full-fledged social network.

7. Navigating the web / exploring digital spaces

If you’ve seen “Minority Report” or watched video of Oblong Industry’s spatial operating system, you’re already familiar with the concept of gestural interfaces. Kinect could be an initial step toward making that concept a reality. In fact, a team from MIT’s Media Lab has already developed a Kinect hack that allows for gesture-driven web surfing:

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  • Kyle

    A lot of the analyses I’ve read point to Kinect itself as sort of a failure, but they suggest that motion sensing will eventually be important in most areas of technology. I think then that even if Microsoft doesn’t make money back on the Kinect, it’s amassed so many patents with obvious future value in the process that it can only be great for their bottom line.

  • http://www.hizook.com Travis

    Don’t forget about robotics. In many ways, the Kinect replaces sensors that typically run $10k+

    You can read more about this application here: http://www.hizook.com/blog/2010/06/20/low-cost-depth-camera-update-microsoft-kinect-november-others-follow-shortly

  • http://www.stephenhobley.com/blog/2010/12/04/what-the-kinect-sensor-actually-does/ Steve Hobley

    I only recently jumped on the Kinect bandwagon after managing to find a sensor at a local Supermarket.

    Initially I was disappointed with the amount of further processing required by the host machine to identify gestures.

    I was hoping that the threshold and blob tracking would take place in the sensor – unfortunately not.

    It’s interesting that you mention the medical application – I’m currently looking into using them to assist in the rehabilitation of stroke victims.

    It’s still a remarkable piece of kit – and puts a real live RGBZ (or is it RGBD?) camera in the hands of the rest of us for ony $150.

  • http://www.thevideogamingsuperstore.com Joseph

    I bought one of these for my daughter’s birthday at http://www.thevideogamingsuperstore.com and it is great. it is exercise in a video game. I don’t like that she uses up my flat screen for it, but that’s the price you pay for your child’s happiness. I went back to http://www.thevideogamingsuperstore.com today and ordered new games for her. I think it is great that they are making games for kids to exercise.

  • http://sectorpublic.com Mark Drapeau

    Here’s a Microsoft Research video with some insight as to what’s next for Kinect and similar tech:

    http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/awilson/publications/WilsonUIST2010/WilsonUIST2010.html

    Really interesting experiments here.

  • http://www.floatingbones.com Phil Earnhardt

    Things like Pilates and T’ai Chi work poorly over videos because instructors are providing feedback and corrections to students. Students will tend to repeat and reenforce their form errors.

    The Wii Fit really didn’t make the grade here: there were too pieces of information. I don’t think the current Kinect has sufficient awareness, either, but it is definitely a move in the right direction.

    –phil

  • http://www.carecloud.com Al

    Expanding on the idea of using Kinect in the healthcare vertical:
    http://blog.carecloud.com/2010/12/07/kinected-healthit/

  • http://blog.monstuff.com Julien Couvreur

    Under the “Participatory art” category, I had a few ideas:
    -home made CGI videos from motion capture. You could “skin” the actors into various costumes and let them produce funny videos like the red vs. blue.
    -green screen effects without a green screen. With the depth sensor, it should be very easy to extract the foreground, and allowing to replace the background with whatever.

  • http://www.cookserv.de Silke O.

    I saw some Kinect videos on youtube they are really impressive.

  • Anon

    In the name of taste, we should gloss over the pr0n applications of Kinect.

  • http://www.ac-m1lan.blogspot.com AC MILAN

    Great post, thanks for share.

  • Dilbert

    No way I’ll ever wear such a horrendous turquoise-and-black chequered shirt, just to enable some gizmo to detect my gestures!!!

  • http://www.schwinnelliptical.org/ Jeff

    I’m purchasing a Kinect for the kids. Anything that promotes movement when gaming is a good idea in my books. Better than having them sit on the lounge glued to the screen.