Kinect Effect: Not Just For Gaming, Spurring Innovation Worldwide

The advanced voice and gesture recognition technology employed in the Microsoft Kinect sensor has spurred innovation across multiple industries, which extend well beyond its gaming roots.

Microsoft’s Kinect has been an undeniable sales success. In fact, in the device’s first 60 days on the market, more than 8 million of them were sold, making it the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history, earning it an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records in the process. The advanced voice and motion / gesture recognition technology used in the Kinect sensor made it an immediate hit with gamers, but the powerful device has since transcended its use as a “controller-less” game controller and inspired innovation in multiple industries, perhaps most notably in Healthcare.

It was back in June that Microsoft released a software development kit for non-commercial Kinect-related projects (next year the company plans to release a similar kit for commercial uses). Since that original SDK was released, however, the Kinect sensor has been adapted for use in a wide range of projects that run the gamut, from security applications to robotics controls. Kinect’s use in the Healthcare sector though, has been the most pervasive. “Honestly, what we know about here at Microsoft is but a tiny fraction of what is actually going on,” said Bill Crounse, a medical doctor and Microsoft’s senior director of worldwide health, referring to medical uses of Kinect. “Everywhere I go in the world – every hospital, college or public health organization, people are already doing something with Kinect or they plan to."

Since Microsoft released an SDK for the Kinect, the device has been adapted for use in a number of industries.

Microsoft recently posted a story on the company website outlining the Kinect’s uses at a senior facility named Tiger Place, built by Americare, Inc. in cooperation with the Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri. According to the story, Tiger Place is the first facility of its kind and provides seniors with an environment in which they can live independently. However, the facility was also built to aid researchers in studying aging and the effects of some eldercare technologies. This is where the Kinect comes in.

Tiger Place monitors its residents with a network of sensors—including the Kinect--placed in apartments, hallways and other rooms spread out across the facility. “With Kinect, we can gather finely grained, gait data – walking speed, stride length, step time, and we can see detailed trends over time to determine subtle changes and determine very early whether there is functional decline and fall risk,” said Marjorie Skubic, professor Electrical and Computer Engineering, at the University of Missouri. “We’ve also tried to make it really passive. For the most part people don’t think about them being there. That’s what we’re going for.”

Tiger Place, an independent living center in Missouri, uses Kinect and other technologies to monitor seniors’ movement. Image Source: Microsoft

The Kinect sensors were specially adapted for Tiger Place by Erik Stone, an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student at the university that was also interested in computer vision, which ultimately led him to the field of eldercare. “Eldercare research has a lot of problems to look at related to computer vision. The main thing we’re looking at in our group is being able to do things passively with environmentally mounted sensors to detect falls, the onset of illness, functional decline and just over all activity level,” Stone said.

Before the Kinect was available, Stone worked with a pair of specially calibrated cameras placed in two different parts of a room to gather in-depth image data. With the Kinect sensor, however, which essentially brought affordable 3-D camera technology to the masses, more data can be gathered more quickly than before. “Now, for $150, you can get a 3-D picture of the world. It’s really rich, and it definitely moves things forward a lot more quickly than we were moving before,” Stone said. “Based on the results we see, I think it’s something we’ll keep using.”

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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