Why Microsoft's Kinect gaming tech matters to business

Computer vision will change how we interact with software and systems...

Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360 may be big news for gamers but its gesture-based tech should be making businesses prick up their ears too, says silicon.com's Natasha Lomas.

Microsoft is gearing up for a big UK launch next week. The product in question has been in development for years, keeping Redmond's finest minds busy behind the doors of secretive research facilities.

No, it's not the next iteration of Windows. It's not even a new mobile OS - Windows Phone 7 is old news compared with the slice of Redmond hardware set to hit the UK on 10 November.

And while Vista didn't exactly get users dancing in the aisles, this latest Microsoft product will have them not only dancing but punching the air, boxing, slapping, stroking virtual creatures and more. Sofas will be pushed back, pets will be confined to the kitchen and dinners will go uneaten as Xbox 360 owners plug in the latest gaming control system. Say hello to Kinect.

Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360

Microsoft demonstrated Kinect for Xbox 360's Dance Central game earlier this year
(Photo credit: Jo Best/silicon.com)

Kinect contains a camera, a depth sensor and sophisticated computer vision software that enables it to identify gamers and track their movements - doing away with the need for a physical controller.

Move your hand and Kinect tracks that movement and replicates it on screen, enabling you to control your in-game character with physical movements and interact with digital objects using gestures. While the game world has got physical before - with the Nintendo Wii's motion-detecting controllers - Kinect strips away another barrier that separates humans from machines: the physical controller layer.

Having had a brief play with Kinect - via a loan from colleagues over on GameSpot UK - it's certainly not the average gaming experience of being glued to the sofa while furiously pressing buttons on a keypad. There is still plenty of fury with Kinect but a good deal more sweating.

One of the device's flagship launch games, Dance Central, requires players to mimic the dance movements of on-screen characters. Yes, you really do have to get off the couch and shake your booty.

Kinect's approach to user interfaces
But what does all this sweating have to do with business? Nothing yet, but what Kinect is doing to user interfaces is very interesting. The Kinect sensor contains a microphone and voice recognition software so users can control the Xbox's media player interface with their voice.

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