Since Microsoft released the Kinect for Xbox 360 a year ago, people have hacked the device to do things like make you appear invisible and create a tool to help the visually impaired navigate.
Microsoft is clearly paying attention to all these "unconventional" uses, and earlier this month announced it would launch a Kinect for Windows commercial SDK in early 2012 to do things like help doctors perform surgery and musicians perform and record music [ see the video ].
Now Microsoft confirms that it is making a PC-friendly version of the Kinect hardware although it has not said when it will become available. We only had to wait a decade for the touch-free computing world shown in "Minority Report" to emerge, and we're betting Kinect's PC integration will directly challenge Apple.
"...we’ve been asked whether there will also be new Kinect hardware especially for Windows," writes Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, on the MSDN blog. "The answer is yes; building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios."
Among the hardware changes Microsoft is promising are a shortened USB cable and a small dongle for better coexistence with other USB peripherals.
New firmware will allow the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 centimeters [ about 20 inches ], opening up what Eisler calls "a whole new class of 'close up' applications." In fact, this was one of the most requested features from developers and companies in the Kinect for Windows pilot program.
Interestingly, Microsoft has had to reassure developers that it will continue to support the new Kinect hardware. Eisler notes that licensed customers will have "ongoing updates in both speech and human tracking" as well as "fully supported Kinect hardware for Windows."
Developers with a killer Kinect idea -- for Windows or the Xbox 360 -- can apply to the new Kinect accelerator Microsoft's BizSpark division is running with TechStars in Seattle. TechStars will get a 6% stake in the companies selected, not Microsoft. Instead, Microsoft is providing the facilities, technical guidance, an Xbox SDK, the Kinect for Windows SDK, a full complement of Microsoft development tools and mentorship [ Eisler is one of the mentors ].
The application deadline is Jan. 25, 2012, and the 12-week program will run from March to May 2012. Microsoft will select 10 companies and invest $20K in each of them. Like other accelerators, the companies will pitch angels and VCs at a demo day (date TBA).
Microsoft's "Kinect Effects" video envisions doctors using Kinect in the OR.
A teacher gives kids a tour of the universe with the help of the Kinect.
A pianist plays music by tapping "keys" while sitting in front of the Kinect.
A student explains DNA to her class by turning and sizing the image that appears on screen.