In-the-air gestural control of personal computers has taken another step closer to general availability. On Monday, Microsoft announced that its Kinect for Windows v2 sensor peripheral will ship on July 15, along with a public beta version of the software
The new information was made available as part of an update on pre-orders. The pre-order notice said the V2 sensor will give "developers more of the precision, responsiveness, and intuitive capabilities they need to develop interactive voice and gesture-based applications."
The newest version of the sensor increases depth-sensing, provides 1080p video, and offers enhanced skeletal tracking and infrared technology. The peripheral, which will be priced for developers at $199, includes a sensor and a USB 3.0 connection. The sensor moves much of the processing to the GPU on the PC, instead of being handled by the CPU. Microsoft said that only a limited pre-order inventory is available.
New York City Hackathon
After that inventory is depleted, Kinect sensors will be available as part of the general release later in 2014. The Xbox One gaming console, for which the Kinect controller was originally released, is available for $499 with the Kinect, or $399 without it.
In late June, the company conducted a 27-hour hackathon in New York City around Kinect 2.0 and the SDK 2.0. On its Kinect for Windows Blog, the company noted that over a hundred participants attended, and the energy was high enough to warrant setting up additional events this summer in Dallas, Texas; at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington; and in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Although Kinect comes from the gaming world of the Xbox, the applications shown at the New York hackathon represented a wide range of uses. First place was awarded to an application called K4B from a company named Lightspeed. It uses the Kinect sensor to scan large ceiling spaces for mapping measurements of HVAC and electrical details for design and construction.
Thing T. Thing, Augmented Travel
Another demonstrated application, called Thing T. Thing, uses a robotic hand to wave when someone walks by, and it can be controlled by finger tracking. ScanAdHoc employs several Kinect for Windows v2 sensors to wirelessly create 3D body scans for fitting clothes. Augmented Travel enables virtual travel, with the user's body acting as controller, and a touchless controller enables gestures for controlling any Windows app or browser.
Kinect for Windows was announced in May of last year. At the time, Bob Heddle, director of Kinect for Windows, wrote on the Kinect blog that the sensor would "revolutionize computing experiences."
The Kinect is a gestural-based controller that allows users of the Xbox to control the console through body movements, including kicking, jumping, and various kinds of skills-in-action, like simulated tennis.
It also recognizes players and offers voice-control. Since its release, there has been speculation about whether Microsoft would offer the peripheral and related software as a non-touch, non-keyboard/mouse way to control a PC, and some of the reportedly hundreds of third-party projects are investigating that use -- as undoubtedly is Microsoft.
But a key question still remains: Do users really want to wave their hands and other body parts to control non-game activities on their personal computers?