Innovation, Microsoft

8 things you can do with the Kinect – besides play games

kinectWhen Microsoft launched the Kinect in 2010, I think the world must have collectively sighed. Here was a device that recognised your movements and your voice and allowed your body to act as a controller. It was a 3D camera that you could hold in one hand. It recognised who was standing in front of it by analysing their body shape and face. And it was being used for gaming. Really?!

Now, no disrespect to all the Kinect games — I’m sure many hours of fun were had running on the spot and batting the air like a lunatic — but the Kinect has the potential for more. Within days of its release, people realised this. Microsoft seems to have cottoned on too (with help from the hackers) and released a software development kit for the Kinect in June last year. A commercial version for Windows was launched last month. More than 18 million Kinects have been sold so far…  so what have people been doing with them? Playing games, yes. But also making cool stuff.

Quadrocopters:

So. Many. Flying. Objects. Students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich adapted the Kinect so that it could be used to control a quadrocopter. Clap your hand and it lands, raise one hand and it flips in mid-air. Taking it one step further, students from the UC Berkeley Hybrid Systems Lab took the human out of the equation completely. They mounted a Kinect on top of a quadrocopter and simplified the feed so that the on-board computer could recognise things like the floor and obstacles. If the quadrocopter senses something in its way, it pauses in mid-air and continues again when the obstacle is removed. I want my car to do this, please.

Interactive displays:

You wouldn’t think a store that sells outdoor furniture would have much use for a Kinect, but you’d be wrong. Dedon installed a display in the window of their Soho store where a hidden Kinect recorded the movements of passers-by and used it to move blades of sea grass (and generally entertain pedestrians).

Smart shopping carts:

Ever wished your shopping trolley would just push its damn self around the store, scanning items as you put them inside and crossing them off your shopping list? Well, a team from Chaotic Moon made it happen. They’ve transformed your standard shopping trolley into a “Smarter Cart” — a prototype for Whole Foods that uses a scanner to ring up your purchases, a Kinect to navigate around the store and interpret your voice instructions and a tablet to happily check items off your shopping list. It also recognises when you add things to the trolley that weren’t on your list — so no more impulsive chocolate purchases for you.

Although if it ever becomes more than a prototype, they’re going to have to do something about the voice that confirms what you’ve just placed inside the trolley — cool if you’re buying cereal, not so much if you’re buying something you don’t want to be loudly announced to the whole store.

Body scanner:

Because finding the perfect pair of jeans is so hard, Kinect has come to the world of fashion to make your life easier. Online shoppers, rejoice. Bloomingdale’s has partnered with Bodymetrics to develop a pod that uses eight Kinects to scan your body shape, and then tell you which type of jeans you should buy to suit your figure — supposedly so you won’t be among the 40% of shoppers who return clothing because it doesn’t fit right. It sounds kind of strange, but something like this could make more customers purchase items online in the future, if the recommendations lead to a reduced chance that the skinny jeans you bought will make you look like an elephant in a cardboard box.

Medical applications:

The humble Kinect is assisting with surgery. Yep. Surgeons at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and in hospitals in Spain are using the Kinect to manipulate CAT and CT scans during surgery. Previously, surgeons had to use a normal germ-infested keyboard and mouse if they wanted to check the scans during a procedure and scrub in again when returning to the operating theatre. Now they just wave their hands in the air to check the scans.

The Kinect is also being used to monitor the movements of the elderly, so medical problems can be recognised before they become serious health concerns. Patients at the Royal Berkshire hospital in England are playing Kinect games as part of their therapy and rehabilitation, and their game scores are being used as an indication of their progress.

Gesture-based computer interaction:

Ah, Minority Report fans were waiting for this one. Gesture-based interactions with computers are no longer just a cool gadget in a sci fi movie… all thanks to the never-ending awesomeness of the guys at MIT. They fine-tuned the Kinect so that it recognises your hands – even individual fingers — so you can select, resize, rotate, shuffle and remove images just by swishing your hands about in the air. There’s also Fusion 4D — which uses a Kinect and 3D glasses — and allows you to grab, rotate, scale and manipulate 3D objects. Oh, and it also responds to voice commands. As if all that wasn’t enough.

3D video:

What do you get if you combine the video streams of two Kinects? A 3D representation of whatever it is you’re filming. Hey, it’s not perfect, but Oliver Kreylos put together a pretty decent demo of what you can achieve with an idea and a pair of Kinects.

The Board of Awesomeness:

Another one from Chaotic Moon (I promise I’m not a stalker) is the epically titled Board of Awesomeness. Basically, it’s a motorised skateboard with a Windows 8 tablet and a Kinect stuck to the front that accelerates or decelerates depending on how far away your hand is from the Kinect. There’s also an updated version — called the Board of Imagination — where the team chucked the Kinect and moved on to telepathic control — you just think about moving forward and it goes. Also, just to reiterate, all if this is controlled by a 10 inch tablet. Mind. Blown.

Photo: Cha giá José


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