Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Microsoft Has Big Plans for Kinect's Future

Microsoft apparently has some pretty big plans for the Kinect. Best known as a gaming accessory for the XBox 360, its future potential for other things was a big highlight at an event for journalists which I attended at the Microsoft campus in Redmond Monday.

In one demo, we got to see more details about the Avatar Kinect feature that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. In the first video below, a member of Microsoft’s development team showed how she could host a virtual “talk show” with two other live participants.

In the second, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer, shows a video sampling of work done by enthusiasts and hobbyists using the Kinect for things like simulating a light saber from Star Wars to driving a toy helicopter. The videos show projects that people did on their own without any official help or support from Microsoft.

Sensing opportunity, Microsoft said today that it will release a software developers kit for the Kinect to academics, hobbyists and enthusiasts, but not yet for commercial developers.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s own researchers have been hard at work trying to figure out other things that the Kinect might be useful for. One of them may one day have something to do with creating 3D digital renderings of the environments we live in. In another demonstration we weren’t allowed to photograph or film, a Kinect took a series of images of a bunch of reporters sitting on a couch around a coffee table with a lot of stuff on it: toys, a telephone, a plant, a vase. The resulting image looked a little like something out of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. We could see detailed 3D rendersings of everything on the table, and of ourselves that increased in detail as the minutes passed. I was wearing a scarf and after a minute or two I could see its wrinkles, yet the renderings looked as though everything were covered with a layer of dust or snow.

During this demo, one interesting effect occurred when someone got up and walked away from the couch. On the screen, that person seemed to melt away a little at a time. Then he returned to the same place, and he slowly re-materialized into the scene as if he had just been beamed back into place by the Starship Enterprise.

This is all just at the research and experimental phase right now. But the work could one day lead to a future version of the Kinect where the avatar is a more photo-realistic version of yourself, and not a cartoon-like representation, as seen in the talk show video below. Plus? Our more realistic avatars will meet in more realistic looking environments that closely resemble the real thing. Imagine what you could do with that in the fields of communication, entertainment and others. You could use it make a detailed model of a room in your home to try and figure out how things would look redecorated.

This is all part of a theme of research at Microsoft into natural user interfaces that will one day replace the graphical users interfaces we’re so used to on the Mac and Windows today.

Avatar Kinect Demo from Arik Hesseldahl on Vimeo.

Kinect Development projects from Arik Hesseldahl on Vimeo.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus