Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Kinect Experience: The Revolution Will Be Digitized

So, I'm almost surprised to say Microsoft has knocked it out of the park with the new Kinect system. While Wii has had a strong running and Sony's Playstation continues to be a draw for gamers, I think the sum and total of the newest Xbox 360 (with built-in wifi), combined with the audio and visual sensing capabilities of the Kinect are a huge win for the hottest selling game console on the market. Kotaku did an interesting article on the new Kinect accessories and how Microsoft plans to apply its lessons to future solutions.

Gizmodo posted a recent blog commenting on the nascent efforts from one developer to create open source drivers for the Kinect. One commenter made a very interesting point about how low-cost consumer devices provide a tremendous opportunity for robotic researchers.

Vebyast wrote:
Why we care about open-source drivers for the Kinect: robotics. Speaking as a robotics developer, $150 for a working time-of-flight sensor of this quality is incredible. Every researcher at my university is waiting eagerly to put one of these on their robot. Most of the current solutions for getting depth data cost a few thousand dollars. Bringing that cost down to $150 is amazing.

Also, again speaking as a robotics person, the software isn't that hard to write. For example, we already have a working system that reads sign language using a single, standard webcam. Doing body posture detection with a Kinect would be trivial compared to doing sign language recognition with a webcam.

With Apple's multitouch iOS, full gesture recognition would have been a natural for their efforts, but its hard to argue that Microsoft's XBox environment clearly made the more natural fit seeing where we are at this point in tech history. Microsoft XBox 360 being "top dog" and Apple still taking baby steps into the living room.

Part of my concern moving forward, is that Microsoft will push its advantage with the "Kinect", by shoehorning it into a number of places it doesn't fit, or treat the device (and no-doubt its algorythmic patents on echo cancellation and time-of-flight sensing) closed and proprietary to outside developers yearning to patch into them. Microsoft has always been good about supporting developers though, so... here's hoping.

One Wired: Game Life blog commenter speculated:

This is Awesome news. I abandoned robotics as a hobby a few years ago because I wasn’t happy building small and useless robots. I wanted something that could see. The hardware cost required for SLAM (robot vision) was way beyond my means. Scanning laser set-ups cost more than an entire hobby-grade robot. Microsoft just opened up advanced robotics to a whole lot of people. I would prefer open source software for Kinect but I’ll be temporarily placated if they let you talk to it with MS Robotics Studio.

Motion sensing isn't for everything... just as multitouch isn't for everything. But, you can feel the "right" UI for the "right" reason steadily moving past lingering issues of best-of-breed implementation, leaving only questions of "best of outcome" to be solved.

For me, that's a tremendous win for productivity.