Automotive companies Audi, Ford, and Nissan are adopting Kinect for Windows as a the newest way to put a potential driver into a vehicle. Most car buyers want to get "hands on" with a car before they are ready to buy, so automobile manufacturers have invested in tools such as online car configurators and 360-degree image viewers that make it easier for customers to visualize the vehicle they want.
Now, Kinect's unique combination of camera, body tracking capability, and audio input can put the car buyer into the driver's seat in more immersive ways than have been previously possible—even before the vehicle is available on the retail lot!
The most recent example of this automotive trend is the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder application powered by Kinect for Windows, which was originally developed to demonstrate the new Pathfinder at auto shows before there was a physical car available.
Nissan quickly recognized the value of this application for building buzz at local dealerships, piloting it in 16 dealerships in 13 states nationwide.
"The Pathfinder application using Kinect for Windows is a game changer in terms of the way we can engage with consumers," said John Brancheau, vice president of marketing at Nissan North America. "We're taking our marketing to the next level, creating experiences that enhance the act of discovery and generate excitement about new models before they're even available. It's a powerful pre-sales tool that has the potential to revolutionize the dealer experience."
Digital marketing agency Critical Mass teamed with interactive experience developer IdentityMine to design and build the Kinect-enabled Pathfinder application for Nissan. "We're pioneering experiences like this one for two reasons: the ability to respond to natural human gestures and voice input creates a rich experience that has broad consumer appeal," notes Critical Mass President Chris Gokiert. "Additionally, the commercial relevance of an application like this can fulfill a critical role in fueling leads and actually helping to drive sales on site."
Each dealer has a kiosk that includes a Kinect for Windows sensor, a monitor, and a computer that’s running the Pathfinder application built with the Kinect for Windows SDK. Since the Nissan Pathfinder application first debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2012, developers made several enhancements, including a new pop-up tutorial, and interface improvements, such as larger interaction icons and instructional text along the bottom of the screen so a customer with no Kinect experience could jump right in. "In the original design for the auto show, the application was controlled by a trained spokesperson. That meant aspects like discoverability and ease-of-use for first-time users were things we didn’t need to design for," noted IdentityMine Research Director Evan Lang.
Now, shoppers who approach the Kinect-based showroom are guided through an array of natural movements—such as extending their hands, stepping forward and back, and leaning from side to side—to activate hotspots on the Pathfinder model, allowing them to inspect the car inside and out.
The project was not, however, without a few challenges. The detailed Computer-Aided Design (CAD) model data provided by Nissan, while ideal for commercials and other post-rendered uses, did not lend itself easily to a real-time engine. "A lot of rework was necessary that involved 'retopolgizing' the mesh," reported IdentityMine’s 3D Design Lead Howard Schargel. "We used the original as a template and traced over to get a cleaner, more manageable polygon count. We were able to remove much more than half of the original polygons, allowing for more fluid interactions and animations while still retaining the fidelity of the client's original model."
And then, the development team pushed further. "The application uses a dedicated texture to provide a dynamic, scalable level of detail to the mesh by adding or removing polygons, depending on how close it is to the camera,” explained Schargel. “It may sound like mumbo jumbo—but when you see it, you won't believe it."
You can see the Nissan Pathfinder app in action at one of the 16 participating dealerships or by watching our video case study.
Kinect for Windows Team
Traditional digital animation techniques can be costly and time-consuming. But KinÊtre—a new Kinect for Windows project developed by a team at Microsoft Research Cambridge—makes the process quick and simple enough that anyone can be an animator who brings inanimate objects to life.
KinÊtre uses the skeletal tracking technology in the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK) for input, scanning an object as the Kinect sensor is slowly panned around it. The KinÊtre team then applied their expertise in cutting-edge 3-D image processing algorithms to turn the object into a flexible mesh that is manipulated to match user movements tracked by the Kinect sensor.
Microsoft has made deep investments in Kinect hardware and software. This enables innovative projects like KinÊtre, which is being presented this week at SIGGRAPH 2012, the International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. Rather than targeting professional computer graphics (CG) animators, KinÊtre is intended to bring mesh animation to a new audience of novice users.
Shahram Izadi, one of the tool's creators at Microsoft Research Cambridge, told me that the goal of this research project is to make this type of animation much more accessible than it's been—historically requiring a studio full of trained CG animators to build these types of effects. "KinÊtre makes creating animations a more playful activity," he said. "With it, we demonstrate potential uses of our system for interactive storytelling and new forms of physical gaming."
This incredibly cool prototype reinforces the world of possibilities that Kinect for Windows can bring to life and even, perhaps, do a little dance.
Peter Zatloukal, Kinect for Windows Engineering Manager
We’re pleased to announce the release of Developer Toolkit update v1.5.2, which includes:
If you have already installed the Kinect for Windows SDK, simply download the new v1.5.2 Developer Toolkit Update. If you are new to Kinect for Windows, download both the Kinect for Windows SDK v1.5 and the Developer Toolkit v1.5.2.
Rob RelyeaProgram Manager, Kinect for Windows
Kinect for Windows partners are finding new business opportunities by helping to develop new custom applications and ready-made solutions for various commercial customers, such as the Coca-Cola Company, and vertical markets, including the health care industry.
Several of these solutions were on display at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto, Canada, where Kinect for Windows took the stage with two amazing demos as well as strong booth showings at the Solutions Innovation Center.
"Being part of the WPC 2012 event was a great opportunity to showcase our Kinect-based 3-D scanner, and the response was incredibly awesome, both on stage when the audience would spontaneously clap and cheer in the middle of the scan, and in the Kinect for Windows trade show area where people would stand in line to get scanned," said Nicolas Tisserand, co-founder of the France-based Manctl, one of the 11 companies in the Microsoft Accelerator for Kinect program.
Manctl's Skanect scanner software uses the Kinect sensor to build high quality 3-D digital models of people and objects, which can be sent to a 3-D printer to create detailed plastic extruded sculptures. "Kinect for Windows is a fantastic device, capable of so much more than just game control. It's making depth sensing a commodity," Tisserand added.
A demo from übi interactive in Germany uses the Kinect sensor to turn virtually any surface into a 3-D touchscreen that can control interfaces, apps, and games. "Kinect for Windows is a great piece of hardware and it works perfect[ly] with our software stack," reported übi co-founder David Hajizadeh. "As off-the-shelf hardware, it massively reduced our costs and we see lots of opportunities for business applications that offer huge value for our customers."
Snibbe Interactive created its SocialMirror Coke Kiosk to deliver a Kinect-based game in which players aim a stream of soda into a glass and then share videos of the experience with their social networks. "We were extremely excited to show off our unique Coca-Cola branded interactive experience and its unique ability to create instant ROI [return on investment] through our viral marketing component," reported Alan Shimoide, director of engineering at Snibbe.
InterKnowlogy developed KinectHealth to assist doctors with motion-controlled access to patient records and surgery planning tools. "A true game changer, Kinect for Windows allows our designers and developers to think differently about business cases across many verticals," noted Kevin Custer, the director of strategic marketing and partnerships at InterKnowlogy. "Kinect for Windows is not just how we interact with computers, but it offers unique ways to add gesture and voice to our natural user-interface designed software—the combination of which is changing lives of customers and users alike." "Avanade has already delivered several innovative solutions using Kinect, and we expect that demand to keep growing," said Ben Reierson, innovation manager at Avanade, whose Kinect for Virtual Healthcare includes video chat for connecting clinics to remote doctors for online appointments. "Customers and partners are clearly getting more serious about the possibilities of Kinect and natural user interfaces."