Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Kinect Revolution


I wrote the original version of this article on February 1st while I was on a business trip in New York City. Coincidentally it was on the same week when the Kinect for Windows was released to the market. I wrote my initial thoughts about the Kinect and its surprising history from the labs to the market and how it is changing the way we develop interaction behaviours for applications and games. I have putting a few samples and blog posts together and I though it was a good idea to publish my full original article first. So without further talking, here it is.

For those people that haven’t been able to try a Kinect sensor yet, it is a motion sensor device created by Microsoft, which allows people to interact with games and applications without the need of a physical controller. While several companies out there were working on movement controllers, this little fellow went the extra mile and got rid of the hardware itself. After all, the smartest device in the market is actually the human body.

Launched in November 2010, Kinect started a revolution in the gaming industry. It sold 8 million units in the first 60 days, holding even a Guinness World Record of being the "fastest selling consumer electronics device". Kinect changed not only video game industry but also the ways people can interact with software applications. It brought new interaction behaviours to consumer market that only a few years ago was still considered science fiction. Kinect capabilities for gesture and speech recognition and its relatively low cost make natural user interface development easier than ever before.

The Kinect story is quite interesting for being a Microsoft product. It was launched as a closed source proprietary technology. When Microsoft released it to the public in 2010, it was intended to complement the Xbox 360 console. Right at that moment it caught the eyes of the development community. Developers were so interested that they broke into the device in record time (not one month after the public release) and started to use the Kinect to develop custom applications using the Kinect sensors. Suddenly there was an unofficial SDK circulating on the web allowing any developer to use it for Kinect application development. Instead of banning users and forbidding the software breaks, Microsoft took an unprecedented approach and actually supported the community and the application development for non-commercial purposes. In June 2011, Microsoft published an official Kinect non-commercial SDK for people and companies to continue exploring the power of the device.

Now, up until recently, Kinect for Xbox SDK was free to use for educational and non-commercial purposes, which allowed developers and companies to explore the technology and its applications but prevented the use of the SDK and the hardware for commercial products. In order to propel the Kinect usage and development, Microsoft announced in October last year that it was about to release an updated version of the hardware and the firmware for commercial purposes which was improved for Windows development.

Microsoft has just released (February 1st), the new version called Kinect for Windows. The updated hardware is a bit more expensive than the first version of the device, but it comes with a commercial license and several features intended to improve the sensor capabilities when used with a computer.

Kinect for Windows can be connected to computers running Windows 7 and even the Windows 8 developer preview. The Skeletal and Join tracking has been improved providing a more accurate and faster tracking. The new version also provides a new Near Mode that enables the depth camera to detect objects as close as 50 centimetres in front of the device with graceful degradation at 40 centimetres. This will effectively allow developers and companies to start creating and releasing commercial Kinect applications in the consumer market, hopefully helping to continue democratizing natural user interfaces for end consumers all over the world.

Over the next few months I’ll be posting a series of articles about developing applications, games and interaction behaviours with Kinect for Windows, so stay tuned.

Kinect For Windows:
Official Blog:


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