What the new Kinect for Windows offers interactive designers

Discover what the Xbox One's Kinect is capable of – and what creatives from Leviathan and Specialmoves would like to do with it.

Gesture-based interactive design projects could be taken to the next level with the new Kinect for Windows sensor, which will be better at recognizing gestures, motion and voice.

Developers will be able to write applications with the sensor, announced today by Microsoft, that bring voice, gesture and other forms of natural interaction to computers. The sensor follows the announcement earlier this week of Kinect for Xbox One gaming console. That Kinect sensor and the console are both due out later this year, while the Kinect for Windows sensor will become available next year.

The Kinect sensors will "revolutionize computing experiences," said Bob Heddle, director of Kinect for Windows, in a blog post Thursday.

Microsoft has already implemented touch in Windows 8 for PCs and tablets. More precise tracking and a wider field of view could help improve motion recognition, while a sophisticated microphone could boost voice interaction.

More Kinect for Windows details will be revealed at the Build conference in June. Developers will also get the SDK (software development kit), from which human-computer interaction programs can be written.

Kinect for Windows will have a high-definition camera and a noise-isolating microphone to recognize relevant sounds in rooms. Another new technology in the sensor is "Time-of-Flight" technology, which Heddle said "measures the time it takes individual photons to rebound off an object or person to create unprecedented accuracy and precision."

A feature called "skeletal tracking" follows more points on a human body to better track movement of multiple users. The sensor will be able to create more accurate avatars all the way down to the wrinkles on a person's body, Heddle said.

The gesture and image recognition will get a boost with the new "active IR" feature, which will help to recognize facial features. The feature will allow the sensor to work in multiple lighting conditions.

"The precision and intuitive responsiveness that the new platform provides will accelerate the development of voice and gesture experiences on computers," Heddle wrote.

Designers react to the new Kinect's potential

Creative agencies who've built gestural controls into interactive and experiential design projecs are impressed by what the new Kinect offers.

"While the new Kinect does have improved hardware, it's overall a better iteration of the original," says Adam Berg, software engineer at Leviathan, which has used the original Kinect to produce motion driven visual projects for the likes of electronica star Amon Tobin's massive stage show. "We're most excited about the software improvements that provide amazing intelligence about a room and the people in it. This new model brings the real and virtual worlds even closer together, so we'll no doubt integrate into new projects at Leviathan."

"The new Kinect shows great potential to create some very interesting interactive applications and games," says Stephen Chan, senior developer at Specialmoves, which has produced interactive experiences using the original Kinect as well as the Leap Motion sensor and Intel's Gesture Camera technology. "Being able to detect orientation of bones really allows us to make character control a lot more realistic and dynamic. We won't just see static models, but more free-flowing characters, giving the characters more life. Having the ability to detect human skeletons in the dark or light can really create some interesting experiences.

"The idea of being able to detect force and what muscles are in use, really takes it to the next level. We can create some really interesting interactive apps that can show how people move or create fitness games to show how people are using their muscles and if they are doing exercises right, but all fun aside, we could even create some applications that would really help with physiotherapy and rehabilitation to injuries.

"The new Kinect has really taken it to the next level and may have taken a step out of just games. With the ability to know about your muscles, emotions and heart rate, it really has the opportunity to also jump into other industries – like medical and sports. The new Kinect is really exciting and I personally cannot wait to get my hands on one, so I can start my experiments and research on people."

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