Susan IbachTechnical Evangelist
On October 7th I looked into the Future. I don't claim to have foresight powers, but Craig Mundy magically painted his vision with such realism that some of the panelists were left dumbfounded at his eloquence. The Chief Research and Strategy Officer of Microsoft presented a world where technology went from being a tool to being a helper. A world where doctors rely on the help of technology for diagnosis, as well as for the distribution thereof. A world where classes are given globally and laptops or slates add to the teaching environment rather than to the social networks. A world where everyone, regardless of their profession, gets to enjoy the help of their own STARK Enterprises J.A.R.V.I.S robot helper.
It is refreshing to see Microsoft focusing on social entrepreneuring fields, which seems to come from it's chairman. Mr. Mundie explained that before concentrating on his philanthropic efforts, Bill Gates guided Microsoft's research group into areas of social development as well as initiating talks with universities and their developments in these fields. It is up to Universities such as McGill to leverage the technology and indulge in health, education and communications research.
Among most of the hidden gems coming out of Microsoft's technologies is Kinect. This tool has seen the light mostly on the gaming sector, but it is slowly creeping its way into more relevant markets such as health. This technology is a stepping stone into the realm of possibilities of what can be done in Health. Entrepreneurs have always thought of simply linking people with video and voice. A doctor teleconferencing with a patient through Skype. Kinect takes the concept of telepresence to a completely different level. With Kinect the experience is enriched with gestures and reactions through movement and depth perception. It is easy to mention examples of monitoring critical patients and scenarios such as launching a 911 call when a patient is moving or shaking strangely and even to check whether they are being active enough, but perhaps the most impressive advantage is that all of that and more can be done for the price of $150.
Thanks to Microsoft's recent release of the Kinect SDK for windows, developers have the ability to produce a new set of services in many domains through more natural ways of interaction. Thus, decreasing the complexity for users and flattening out the usability learning curve.
I believe Kinect is the link between us and that New World Craig Mundie prophesized. Soon we will start seeing the ability to turn on the lights by voice or dimming them with a hand wave at the reach of everyone simply because the technology exists, it is affordable and Microsoft has given it to us on a silver platter!
If you would like to live the experience yourself, there is a transcription of Craig Mundie's panel at McGill University for you to read.
Oscar Guerrero - McGill University MSP
A couple of weeks ago I introduced the Mango App Challenge – in essence, a contest for you to develop and publish 2 Windows Phone apps to the Marketplace and in return we’d give you a free phone.
Well, so far the contest has gotten a lot of entries (but there’s still plenty of phones left to give) and I want to share with you some of the great winners so far.
Get it: Here
Price: $1.29 (Free trial)
So, do you think you can build a couple of apps and publish them by December 15? Then get started! Download the tools and, if Windows Phone is new to you, learn with free resources here!
Being an intern at Microsoft comes with exciting opportunities to learn, experience and be constantly exposed to the latest and greatest technology (aka Microsoft products). One of them being the Xbox Kinect. I’ll admit I wasn’t a keen video gamer prior to my internship, but now I am slightly addicted to Kinect – and for more reasons than one.
You literally are the controller. Simple as that… there are no controllers because you (your head, hands, feet and all) are in control of the game, providing a gaming experience that amazes the young and old. I always drag another intern to play with me in the office or pull in family and friends at home to show them how our avatar replicates our every move. I am still fascinated with how the Kinect sensor works to capture your movements… it makes it easier for me to set up the game and simply have fun. I first tried Kinect Adventures which includes simple games where you pop bubbles and plug leaks that always amuse 22 year old interns (like me) after a long day of work. Similar to roller coasters in amusement parks, the Kinect sensor takes random pictures of you while you play… you may be jumping up in the air or swinging your arms like crazy, but they are “profile-pic-worthy”.
I’m now addicted to Kinect Sports and pretty much can spend an hour playing volleyball, bowling, soccer (and boxing when no one else is around)… in a way, it compensates for not having a bowling alley at home. While I still go to the gym to work out, I find it easier to stay home or at work and get fit through these games… you work up a sweat without even knowing it!
While most people would see Kinect solely as an entertainment device, I learn a few months ago that these systems are contributing to the healthcare industry with its’ controller-free movement sensor technology. CLICK (Child Life Interactive Computers for Kids) is a program where Microsoft Canada works with the Children’s Miracle Network to provide young patients with technology during their stay in the hospital. Other than providing children with Kinect systems for gaming and connection to their family and friends, doctors are also using Kinect for operational and therapy purposes. At Sunnybrook hospital, surgeons have built an application using the Kinect technology to control, move, and adjust x-ray imaging with a wave of their hand – working with the imaging while they’re operating and being more efficient with time.
I know that when I apply for co-op terms through my school, I look for organizations that are making real contributions… not only are they commended on their reputation within the industry and their products or services, but also for the consistent involvement in the community. For me, knowing the real-world impact Microsoft is making outside of the gaming industry with this technology shows how we want to enhance lives with our innovative solutions and products, and lead the way for more advancements in healthcare.
Now that I’ve caught your attention with the title of this post, I want to introduce you to a really great promotion we are holding at Microsoft Canada for you as a mobile app developer (by the way, when I write “app”, I actually mean “app or game”).
One of the biggest comments that I get when talking to people interested in building an app for Windows Phone is that they don’t have a device. Then they ask me where they can get a Windows Phone. The easiest answer is to go to your local wireless carrier and purchase a Windows Phone (likely with a data plan) from them. That isn’t always optimal (hey, I get it – if you’re locked into a plan it’s a tough sell to get another one with your carrier of choice). The second choice is to purchase a Windows Phone from a distributor like zones.com, where you can purchase a device that is not attached to a data plan, but those phones are typically not subsidized by the distributor or the device manufacturer.
Now, for those of you that publish 2 or more new, quality apps for Windows Phone, we will actually give you a Windows Phone to keep through the Mango App Challenge. Feel free to re-read that. Your eyes are not deceiving you. There are terms and conditions, of course, but the gist of the offer is that if you create 2 new apps (i.e.: they don’t already exist in the Marketplace) that meet a certain quality bar and you publish them under a Canadian Marketplace account before December 15th, we’ll be delivering you a shiny new Windows Phone with the Windows Phone 7.5 OS (formerly codenamed “Mango”) already installed on it. It’s that simple. We’re so confident in your ability to bring some amazing apps to the Marketplace that we have 300 devices total for this offer to give out to developers.
So, are you interested? I thought you might be. For those of you that know Windows Phone development already, chances are you’ve already fired up Visual Studio 2010 and have great ideas ready to be converted into code. For those of you that have not built apps for Windows Phone, we have you covered as well. There are tonnes of resources available to you to learn how to build apps for Windows Phone and the tooling is freely downloadable. The only thing you need to to is register as a developer for Windows Phone (this registration is required to publish apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace). As a student, registration is free through Dreamspark! Below are some resources to get you started (and they are great for new and seasoned developers alike!).
How to Get Started Building Apps for Windows Phone and Enter the Mango App Challenge
Good luck and happy coding!
I was kind of surprised but not totally, when I saw that announced in a tweet. Thanksgiving dinner this year at our place culminated in the family taking turns busting a move to Dance Central on Xbox Kinect and both my niece and sister walked away saying “I need one of those”. Sure the games are fun, but when you stop to think about it what’s really amazing is the technology behind it: infrared camera, laser depth sensors, microphone array, all for about $150! Obviously they did something right as Guinness World records confirmed it as the fastest selling consumer electronics device ever. It sold an average 133,333 units a day for a total of 8 million units in 60 days From November 2010 to January 3, 2011.
That’s the hardware, but what Popular Mechanics is talking about is the software. The software that you and I can write! Because you can download the Software Development Kit. This is where things start to get really cool. Because now we can start using all that amazing hardware to do neat stuff! It’s amazing what people are coming up with: nerf gun cubicle protection, or jazzing up the reception room. This version of the SDK is a beta and has been released so enthusiasts, students and faculties out there can get in and play with the capabilities of the Kinect device. So for now its for research and fun, but the Kinect site does mention they expect to release a commercial version at a later date.
The SDK has APIs for raw sensor streams to collect data from the depth sensor, color camera sensor, and the microphone array. You can use an API to do skeletal tracking (this one is definitely one of the cooler features to play with). With the microphone array and APIs in the SDK you can do noise suppression and echo cancellation to identify the sound source and integrate with a speech recognition API as well. You can see a fun example using skeletal tracking and speech recognition with a Kinect controlled RoboSapien.
It’s fun to play with but a lot of universities are doing serious research on what you can do with Kinect as well. Popular Mechanics mentions the UC Davis students who developed 3D videoconferencing, University of Minnesota is using it as a tool to identify autism, ADD, and OCD in kids. There is huge potential when you combine the hardware, the SDK, and the imagination of the worlds developers! The Kinect was so cool that people were hacking it before the SDK was released. Great to see a real SDK out and supported to encourage innovative development.
The entire SDK is under 100MB. You don’t have to have an Xbox to play with the SDK, you can just buy the Kinect sensor unit and connect it to your PC. I have a Kinect already, and would love to start coding but i guess I’ll have to wait until my son finishes dancing “Don’t Sweat the Technique” first