Kinect set to bring 'Minority Report' UI to Windows?

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Tom Cruise
Photo credit: eyeliam/flickr

It seems like hardly a day goes by without another interesting hack appearing for Microsoft's Kinect motion controller. Virtually all Kinect hackers are working with the device connected to a Windows machine (though a few are working in Mac OS X or Linux) and the more of this stuff I see, the more obvious it becomes that this technology needs to be officially supported on Windows. At CES Microsoft's Steve Ballmer said that the company would announce official support at the right time, but his comment seemed to imply that the right time was still some ways off.

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However, some new info suggests that maybe Kinect for Windows is closer than we first imagined. According to WinRumors Microsoft will be revealing official drivers and an SDK "in the coming months" after which commercial 3rd party developers can start baking Kinect support into their software. WinRumors also reiterates what most pundits already assumed: that Windows 8 will support gesture controls, whether through Kinect or some other peripheral.

One of the drawbacks of Kinect on the Xbox 360 is the amount of room it takes. Right now all the stand-alone products that support Kinect expect you to be at least 6 feet from the unit and they track your entire body to control whatever experience you're entering into (to date, games or exercise programs). Some parts of the Xbox Dashboard support Kinect in a more subtle way, tracking just your hands to manipulate the UI, but still the camera needs to be across the room from you. Obviously if you're going to be controlling a desktop machine you're going to have the camera just a few feet away, and it'll just track your hands and possibly your head. That'll be good news both for controlling Windows and playing more traditional games (Xbox or PC) via motion control.

The important point is that, as far as we know, this SDK will work with the current Kinect hardware, which means that the cameras are capable of capturing data from a close source, and it's only the software (or maybe a limitation of the Xbox's processing power) that limits things to broad arm, leg and head movement. Backing up this theory is the Avatar Kinect demo shown at CES where Kinect would translate a person's facial expressions to their avatar's face.

I was an early adopter of Kinect on the Xbox and honestly I haven't found the gaming experience that compelling. But setting the thing on my desk and supporting voice and gesture commands to control my PC sounds pretty compelling to me. Ditto controlling my TV without the need for me to have everything set up 'just so' before it all works.

The other day I was watching the last five episodes of the Battlestar Galactica spin-off series Caprica. In one scene a character was watching TV and when he was done he raised his hand and made a fist: the TV shut down. Not only did that not seem like sci-fi anymore, it made me feel a bit frustrated that this tech isn't in our homes now. Why are we still using physical remotes for simple actions? Hey Microsoft, Kinect on the Xbox is a curious toy. Let's get going on moving Kinect to our computers and home entertainment centers where it'll forever change the way we think about controlling electronics.

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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