Updated: Microsoft's controller-less controller...
...it's the potential for Kinect outside gaming that's really exciting. The interest the sensor has generated is in evidence in the many Kinect hacks that have sprung up since its launch in November 2010.
Whether it's tapping Kinect to perform mock surgery or control robots or build 3D models of interiors or even to project a skeleton on to a moving human body for an impromptu anatomy lesson, there's no shortage of weird and wonderful things being done with this particular slice of kit. Things that may be fun, yet are also concerned with much more than just gaming.
And enthusiast hackers are just the half of it. Despite an early wobble, Microsoft now actively encourages people to get creative with Kinect. In June the company released the Kinect for Windows SDK - enabling developers to create PC software that can tap the computer-vision goodness.
Next up, what about a Kinect app store for Windows? The thought has surely crossed Microsoft's mind.
The company has also released a Kinect SDK for its robotics development toolkit, Robotics Developer Studio. Microsoft hopes Kinect will be able to play a role in bringing robotics to the mass market.
"Gaming is just the beginning, and I foresee this technology fuelling rapid advances in augmented reality and telepresence, internet and personalised shopping, and healthcare, to name just a few," predicted Cambridge's Shotton. "We are even looking at how touch-free interaction could find its way into the operating theatre so the surgeon can navigate the patient's data much more quickly and without risk of contamination from a mouse or keyboard."
Wowzers. So what could Kinect-style NUIs do for PCs? What sort of use-cases does Microsoft see coming down the line for gesture-based computing?
Back in 2009, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talked up the potential for Kinect to be used in offices - for communication, collaboration and interacting in meetings.
Since then, Microsoft has been kicking the tyres of what Kinect-style NUIs can do for productivity, showing off various natural user interface R&D projects - such as a project that incorporates a NUI into a touchscreen so the screen can know and respond to what is touching it and how exactly that object or finger is oriented.
Another R&D project aims to improve remote collaboration by enabling objects to be rendered digitally and projected in 3D for glasses-wearing participants. Kinect tech is also being used to breathe photo-realistic life into avatars - which Microsoft believes could be used to improve the experience of remote working, email and other business-focused comms in future.
Redmond has recently released Avatar Kinect - a feature allowing Xbox 360 users to chat in groups via their avatars, with facial expressions and body language captured using Kinect. Smile and your avatar smiles for you - albeit rather uncannily since these are not yet photo-realistic digital doubles.
While the initial software has been designed for gamers to socialise, there's no reason the tech couldn't be used for other types of collaboration in future. Business meetings where you can slap your boss in the face and not get fired for it? Technically, at least, it may be possible.
Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, has talked about the possibility of miniature Kinect cameras being embedded into laptops and even mobile phones to enable remote videoconferencing for business meetings. "I could dream about a day when anywhere you have a camera, the back of your cellphone, or the bezel of your laptop, there