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Inspiring Advances

Gaming will never be the same again thanks to Kinect, which has enabled players to more fully immerse themselves in gameplay. Instead of controlling an action by pressing buttons or moving a joystick, players use their bodies to control the onscreen action, enabling more active gameplay. While this alone is revolutionary, spawning a whole new genre of games, Kinect has inspired advancements in other fields, making it a true technological marvel. What follows are just a few examples of its impact in other sectors.

While Nyko imagined specs to improve Kinect’s ability to track gamers in more confined spaces, Stephen Hicks, PhD, a clinical neurologist at the University of Oxford was inspired by Kinect’s facial recognition and motion sensing technology to develop glasses that could help those who can still discern light but have very little vision recognize important objects and people more readily.

The glasses have small LED lights built into the lenses and tiny cameras built into the frames. The camera sends the information it picks up to a computer that is smaller than a cell phone, which formulates what’s in front of the wearer and transmits important information to him or her by having the LEDs inside the lenses light up in large distinct patterns, which the wearer is trained to understand. The glasses could be available as early as 2014.

Kinect’s capabilities have also been expanded through hacks. Researchers at the Institute of Forensic Medicine’s Virtopsy Project, University of Bern, Switzerland, found that by hooking up a Kinect 3D camera and a wireless headset to their imaging software database, they could get a useful touch-free input for their system.

This technique is helping surgeons at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre view critical patient imaging during cancer surgery. Previously, the surgeons had to leave the sterile field around the patient, presenting challenges and additional risks to the patient.

Kinect is also helping to bring about advances in the field of robotics. Scientists who are working to refine how Asimo, a humanoid robot created by Honda, mimics a person’s movements in real time are using the Kinect sensor to track selected points on a person’s upper body and employ specialized software to generate control commands to make Asimo move accordingly. The scientists note that the capability for a robot to mimic a person in real time could find applications in many areas, including robot programming and interactive teleoperation.

Summary

Kinect is not a passing fad, but a product that has inspired numerous innovations in gaming and other fields. While Kinect still has limitations in tracking, such as fairly generous space requirements, Microsoft continues to update its algorithms, which are offering constant improvements in its facial recognition, skeletal tracking, and voice recognition capabilities.

A major software update is scheduled for late 2011, which promises to fully integrate Kinect into the Xbox 360 dashboard, taking the Kinect experience to a whole new level.

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