Microsoft Kinect (Formerly Natal) Pushes Closer To 'Minority Report' Interface
Microsoft's Xbox 360 add-on Kinect introduced video gamers into a controller-free world this week, but the technology making the magic holds promise for many other applications, too.
Formerly known under the code name Project Natal, Microsoft released the new name along with a slew of games at a star-studded event in Los Angeles, just prior to the opening of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2010 show.
Kinect allows the Xbox 360 entertainment console to interpret gestures such as a swing of an arm to hit a tennis ball with an invisible racket, or picking up a bowling ball on a rack to toss and rolling it down the lane. The platform supports three small motorized sensors: camera, infrared depth sensor and multi-array microphone. It recognizes faces and connects them with profiles stored in the console, and scans in the player's body measurements and maps joints to create an accurate representation of the player.
Several players in multiple locations can play the same game, depending on the title, through Xbox Live. The platform also has a video chat feature. After the games conclude, some offer video or still shot highlights of game play or stats players can upload to a variety of blogs, Web sites and social sites, such as Facebook or Twitter. It's not clear whether Massive, Microsoft's wholly owned subsidiary, will begin creating dynamic video game advertisements for games running on Kinect.
It took Rare Limited about two years to develop a sports title for Kinect, according to George Andreas, creative director for Rare, one in a group of companies under the Microsoft Game Studios brand located in the United Kingdom. Kinect appears to shorten the game development cycle, Andreas says. Development for a prior Xbox 360 game took three years.
Aside from testing the technology, the most challenging part of developing one of the first games for Kinect occurred after realizing that different people walk, run and interact with objects differently. "Your physical movement is your fingerprint; it's unique to you," he says. "We have to make sure all those fingerprints are accessible. The movements must feel good and natural for every player."
The sensors and multi-array microphone technology in the platform also will enable people watching movies through Xbox Live to interact by voice and body gestures, according to Erin Hofto, a Microsoft spokesperson. She explains that giving the audio command "play move" will start the movie playing or speaking "fast forward" will speed through frames.
Navigating through the menu becomes physical without a keyboard, mouse or controller. "It's fun to dream about all the possibilities," Hofto says.
If Microsoft doesn't drop the ball, those dreams could become reality sooner than Hofto and others think. Microsoft continues to move the world deeper toward the "Minority Report" experience, where people physically interact with the content in a 3D environment and manipulate it with voice and gestural movements.
When Microsoft introduced the tabletop computer, the Redmond, Wash. company looked at putting monitors in the room, so cameras could scan physical objects the person used, explains Gord Hotchkiss, president and chief executive officer of Enquiro. "If they were looking at motion movement back then, this technology will likely impact everything we use, including search."
Hotchkiss points to mobile computing as being another medium this application could influence. If you can type in the air rather than a keypad, anything becomes a potential keyboard. "You might not need a keyboard if voice commands become more accurate," he says.
Microsoft continues to create "really cool stuff," Hotchkiss says, but the company's lab or research and development departments often allow innovations to die. The Examinar.com points to a recent Microsoft trademark document for Kinect under computer hardware, software and peripherals that might shed light on other applications for the technology.
Kinect goes on sale in November in time for the holidays, along with more than 15 video game titles focused on sports, fitness and entertainment. The technology aims to entice less-than-savvy gaming enthusiasts to get off the couch and interact with the game console. Xbox will have an exclusive agreement through 2010 with Activision for the "Call of Duty" expansion packs.