Kinect was originally designed for the Xbox 360, but hackers quickly figured out how to interface it to the PC, and write their own software for it. Several of these unauthorized Kinect-on-PC projects are not games: They experiment with how its motion-control technology can be used in an educational, industrial or office environment. Some of them are quite elaborate, such as a teleconferencing setup that uses 10 Kinects to present people in life-size.
Microsoft took notice and decided to support and encourage such non-gaming development by releasing Kinect for Windows, and providing official software tools to help developers make applications for it.
The current product is considered by Microsoft to be an experiment meant for developers. Nonetheless, anyone can buy and tinker with a Kinect for Windows unit. At this stage, you can even get a very early peek into its potential for interacting with your office applications and overall PC.
Kinect for Windows is sold through Microsoft and other online stores. It's not something you are likely to find on retail shelves. It costs $249.99.
When you open its box, you'll find the Kinect unit, and a power supply for it. That's it.
Generally, the Kinect is placed above a display screen, with its camera and sensors facing you. This can be a bit challenging to set up with a notebook or computer, since the Kinect hardware wasn't designed to be clipped to the top of a notebook screen or flat-screen monitor. Its size (which is quite large and not necessarily lightweight) is still the same as that of the original Xbox 360 version -- it's clearly meant to be placed in a living room home entertainment center.
To install the drivers for the Kinect, you have to download the SDK from the official Kinect for Windows site, Kinect SDK Version 1.0. After installing this on your Windows computer, you plug the Kinect sensor to its power supply, and then connect the device's USB cable to the computer.
The Kinect for Windows SDK Sample Browser lists the latest release notes, documentation, and demos showing how to program the technical aspects of the Kinect hardware.
With the exception of a simple game, which demonstrates the Kinect's use of skeletal tracking and speech recognition, all of the stuff in this SDK is only useful to a programmer. So are there any applications that the proud owner of a Kinect for Windows could actually use right now without having to write their own from scratch?
Kinect PowerPoint Control lets you interact with PowerPoint using a Kinect, though very basically: You stand at least five feet away from the Kinect sensor, facing it. To flip forward through a PowerPoint presentation, you extend your right arm -- to flip through the slides in reverse order, extend your left arm. That's all this application allows you to do.
Microsoft tells us that an independent developer has been working on his own, more sophisticated implementation, called Kinecting with PowerPoint, which will let you manipulate presentations using your voice as well as physical gesturing. As of this writing, this application was not available for download.
The KineSis project aims for a more elaborate Kinect user experience: Not only can you control PowerPoint with it, it also lets you use the Kinect to interact with Excel and Word. For instance, you can zoom in on cells in Excel, or highlight text or draw on documents in Word by gesturing.
You can operate the Windows OS itself with a Kinect using KinectNUI. (The NUI stands for Natural User Interface.) You can check out video of it in action. Unfortunately, this project has not been updated for almost a year, but it gives a decent glimpse of how motion controls can be used with Windows.
Here's something that sounds fun but could also be worthwhile for business: StagePresence uses the Kinect to capture your image and movements in real-time, and then sets you on the display screen against a backdrop, such as an animated background, document or virtual environment. It's akin to how the TV news weather-person is screened against a weather map. So with StagePresence, you can dazzle your audience not only with your PowerPoint presentation, but also with your smooth dance moves in front of it. Or, maybe not.