Microsoft Kinect: A Massively Disruptive Platform

Microsoft’s Kinect, a motion-sensing video game controller, set a Guinness World Record as the fastest-selling consumer electronics product ever.

Immediately after the launch, the developer (or as some would say, “hacker”) community went to work on the platform, creating all kinds of extensions and new uses for the system. Wired wrote a great piece on some of the early efforts and how Microsoft handled the situation. Bottom line is that these so-called hackers created applications for Kinect that Microsoft itself had not imagined (or at least, not officially supported) at the time. And then, in an uncharacteristic move, Microsoft announced plans to release an official software development kit (SDK) to enable more people to easily build on top of the technology.

The official Kinect SDK is now out in beta, and it means we can expect to see even more innovation coming from the developer community.

There is little doubt that Kinect is a massively disruptive platform that holds tremendous promise for reinventing the primetime entertainment experience. But there are, of course, innumerable implications beyond the entertainment space.

Below is a collection of some of my favorite Kinect extensions that I’ve run across.

Let me, selfishly, get the ones that my company, Razorfish, has built out of the way. Our emerging experiences team has created a bunch of demos that showcase the potential. Two in particular that I’d like to highlight are:

  • The DaVinci demo, which combines a physics engine with gesture recognition to create a very cool system that shows the power, intuitive interface, and ridiculous fun of a gesture-driven experience. Note how the system is able to recognize an open hand versus a closed fist.
  • Kinect Shop shows off a combination of gesture-drive interface and augmented reality. The Kinect’s built-in camera drives the experience and shows how fashion brands and retailers might engage consumers at home in the near future.

Other incredibly cool Kinect extensions:

  • Enabling an easier shopping experience for the disabled – a robotic cart driven by a Kinect camera that follows the shopper around the store. For another view, see this video.
  • Creating a more sterile operating room by using gesture recognition to access patient files, film, and other materials that surgeons often need to review during the surgery.
  • The virtual pottery wheel. This one is actually not powered by Kinect, but I’m sneaking it in here anyway as a similar example of the blurring lines between digital and physical. Check out some examples of how Kinect is changing gaming and entertainment:
    • Fruit Ninja – love the faux-hawk-like ‘do. Game play looks like it might actually make a decent work out.
    • Star Wars demo from E3 2011 – enabling geeks everywhere to use the force
  • Kinect lightsaber. Continuing the Star Wars theme, this guy used a Kinect to turn a wooden stick into a lightsaber rendered in real time.
  • Virtual puppets. Using Kinect to track different joints in the arm and hand, then translate to a digital puppet.
  • The virtual rubberized paper bag challenge. This developer created a pretty cool distortion effect that looked to me like he was trying to fight his way out of a paper bag.
  • 3D effect. This demo uses the Kinect camera to track eyes and head position, moving the onscreen image accordingly and creating a 3D effect without glasses, and on 2D television. We’ve seen similar things using the front-facing camera on iPads.
  • This one, from MIT, demonstrates hand recognition. Notice the different response between open hand, closed hand, and two-finger pointing. It smacks of Minority Report, of course.
  • Teaching a computer equipped with Kinect to recognize objects and talk back.
  • The self-flying robot. This quadrotor craft looks like a hacked up AR Drone, but you don’t need an iPhone to control it – it controls itself. The Kinect camera system maps the room and even recognizes obstacles, causing the hover craft to stop or adjust course.
  • Invisible man. Using the Kinect camera to create an optical camouflage effect – similar to the alien in the Governator’s classic movie Predator.
  • Reinventing window shopping. This system uses the Kinect to try and figure out which product in a window people are looking at, and then create different digital effects to promote.
  • Retro arcade. Combines outdoor projection of a retro arcade game with Kinect, causing the player to run back and forth, wave his/her arms and jump up and down frantically.

Can’t wait to see what else people dream up. And I wonder which marketer will be the first to create their own Kinect “hack?”

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.