Microsoft has unleashed an updated version of its Kinect for Windows runtime and software development kit that includes support for Windows 8 as well as support for virtual-machine environments that are running Windows. The software giant expects the technology's enhanced natural user interface capabilities will enable Windows software developers to begin building a variety of applications that empower entirely new business scenarios.
For example, Microsoft envisions product vendors using its Kinect with Windows sensors to monitor manufacturing processes by harnessing the platform's ability to gather extended-range depth data. Moreover, building solutions that "work in low-light settings becomes a reality with infrared stream exposure, such as in theaters and light-controlled museums," Microsoft's Kinect for Windows team wrote in a blog post Monday.
We asked Al Hilwa, director of application development software research at IDC, about the potential impact of Microsoft's updated Kinect for Windows SDK on Windows software development going forward.
"This is a surprising extensive set of improvements that adds up to a significant new release that will expand the reach of this device considerably," Hilwa told us. "Kinect is unique in the industry and is already forging a mini-ecosystem around it in terms of the types of applications using it. The applications go way beyond gaming."
Transformative for Business Professionals
With Kinect for Windows, Microsoft is giving software developers the tools they need to integrate a variety of interactive touch-free gesture and voice capabilities into their next-generation apps. According to Microsoft, developers can use their choice of C++, C#, or Visual Basic to create applications that support gesture and voice recognition on machines running Windows 7, Windows Embedded Standard 7 and Windows 8.
"We want to make it easy for our customers to be able to build and deploy on a variety of Windows platforms," said Craig Eisler, the general manager of Kinect for Windows. "By the end of the year, Kinect for Windows will be available in 38 markets."
Microsoft foresees a number of different ways for Kinect for Windows to transform how business professionals in multiple industries -- including education, healthcare, retail and transportation -- interact with computers and Windows-embedded devices in the future.
"I believe that we will get to experience an exciting new era where computing becomes invisible and all of us will be able to interact intuitively and naturally with the computers around us," Eisler wrote in a blog.
Heading to VM Environments
Among other things, Microsoft's updated SDK enables color camera settings on the Kinect for Windows sensor and extended the depth of the technology's 3-D skeletal tracking capabilities to distances greater than 4 meters. Moreover, the sensor's camera is able to see objects as close as 40cm in front of the sensor without any loss of accuracy or precision.
The sensor's infrared stream is now exposed in the API, which means developers will be able to use IR data in many scenarios, such as calibrating other color cameras to the depth sensor or capturing gray-scale images in low-light situations. Furthermore, the Kinect for Windows sensor now works when Windows is running in VM environments available from vendors such as Microsoft, Parallels and VMWare.
"Running inside of a VM will mean potentially the ability to be used on a broader set of machines and allowing developers to access more of the sensor data [which] can only bring more creative uses," Hilwa said.