Microsoft

Microsoft shuts down the Kinect to concentrate on the HoloLens and augmented reality

The Kinect pushed technology forward in immeasurable ways, but Microsoft says it is time to move on to the next technical advance: augmented reality.

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Image: Microsoft News

In an exclusive interview with Fast Company's Co.Design, Alex Kipman, Kinect creator, and Matthew Lapsen, general manager of Xbox Device Marketing, confirmed that Microsoft had officially ceased manufacture of the Kinect. Even though the device sold more than 35 million units, it just isn't part of Microsoft's overall plan for the future of augmented reality. When the current retail inventory is depleted, the Kinect will be relegated to tech history.

But before you shed a tear for the demise of the Kinect, you should consider the technological legacy the device has left in its wake. The sensors that powered the Kinect are the same sensors now powering Microsoft HoloLens devices. And lessons learned from the Kinect voice-activated interface are now deployed in Microsoft's newer products, like Cortana, Windows Hello, and the experimental Gaze, Gesture, and Voice (GGV) interface.

So while the Kinect product itself may be gone, the technology it pioneered is destined to remain an integral part of Microsoft's augmented reality strategy for a long time to come.

SEE: Special report: How to implement AI and machine learning (TechRepublic PDF)

Kinect

First hitting the market in 2010, the Kinect was a revolutionary attempt to move the human/machine interface beyond the keyboard, controller, mouse combination. By mapping a room in three dimensions, the Kinect could track movement, including hand gestures, and react accordingly. The device could also understand and recognize voice commands that were used to control certain Xbox functions.

The concept of talking to your devices and giving them commands seems almost mundane these days, with digital assistants like Cortana, Siri, and Alexa becoming common devices for tech enthusiasts everywhere. But in 2010 the idea was a groundbreaking achievement. In many ways, the initial success and the technological lessons learned from the Kinect experience paved the way for the more advanced, and evermore responsive, digital assistants we have today.

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

The Kinect's ability to adapt to an environment is arguably the first successful practical application of machine learning at the consumer level. As Kinect users interacted with the device, it would learn their idiosyncrasies and adjust as needed. The more you used your Kinect, the more accurate it got at interpreting your gestures and their relationship to its 3D mapping of the room—a technology and technique still being deployed in augmented and virtual reality devices years later and likely for the foreseeable future.

Bottom line

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Image: Microsoft News

Microsoft and other companies are at the cusp of delivering practical and useful devices that will change the way human beings interact with computing devices and perhaps just about everything else. Much of the technological foundation that makes augmented and virtual reality work was laid by technology deployed and refined by the Microsoft Kinect.

So in no small measure, we reached this technological point thanks to an Xbox peripheral that advanced the practical application of spatial and voice interaction even though it never reached its full potential as a gaming interface. And while the Kinect served its secondary purpose as a breeding ground for breakthrough technology, it is now time to move on to the next iteration of the human/machine interface.

It is sad to see it go, but Microsoft was correct to shut down the Kinect and begin to concentrate on the potential of the HoloLens and augmented reality.

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About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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