BUILD—Microsoft’s annual developer conference—is the perfect showcase for inventive, innovative solutions created with the latest Microsoft technologies. As we mentioned in our previous blog, some of the technologists who have been part of the Kinect for Windows v2 developer preview program are here at BUILD, demonstrating their amazing apps. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at how Kinect for Windows v2 has spawned creative leaps forward at two innovative companies: Freak’n Genius and Reflexion Health.

Making schoolwork fun with Freak’n Genius, which lets anyone become an animator using Kinect for Windows v2. Here a student is choosing a character to animate in real time, for a video presentation on nutrition.
Left: A student is choosing a Freak’n Genius character to animate in real time for a video presentation on nutrition. Right: Vera, by Reflexion Health can track a patient performing physical therapy exercises at home and give her immediate feedback on her execution while also transmitting the results to her therapist.

Freak’n Genius is a Seattle-based company whose current YAKiT and YAKiT Kids applications, which let users create talking photos on a smartphone, have been used to generate well over a million videos.

But with Kinect for Windows 2, Freak’n Genius is poised to flip animation on its head, by taking what has been highly technical, time consuming, and expensive and making it instant, free, and fun. It’s performance-based animation without the suits, tracking balls, and room-size setups. Freak’n Genius has developed software that will enable just about anyone to create cartoons with fully animated characters by using a Kinect for Windows v2 sensor. The user simply chooses an on-screen character—the beta features 20 characters, with dozens more in the works—and animates it by standing in front of the Kinect for Windows sensor and moving. With its precise skeletal tracking capabilities, the v2 sensor captures the “animator’s” every twitch, jump, and gesture, translating them into movements of the on-screen character.

What’s more, with the ability to create Windows Store apps, Kinect for Windows v2 stands to bring Freak’n Genius’s improved animation applications to countless new customers. Dwayne Mercredi, the chief technology officer at Freakn’ Genius, says that “Kinect for Windows v2 is awesome. From a technology perspective, it gives us everything we need so that an everyday person can create amazing animations immediately.” He praises how the v2 sensor reacts perfectly to the user’s every movement, making it seem “as if they were in the screen themselves.”  He also applauds the v2 sensor’s color camera, which provides full HD at 1080p. “There’s no reason why this shouldn’t fully replace the web cam,” notes Mercredi.

Mercredi notes that YAKiT is already being used for storytelling, marketing, education reports, enhanced communication, or just having fun. With Kinect for Windows v2, Freak’n Genius envisions that kids of all ages will have an incredibly simple and entertaining way to express their creativity and humor while professional content creators—such as advertising, design, and marketing studios—will be able to bring their content to life either in large productions or on social media channels. There is also a white-label offering, giving media companies the opportunity to use their content in a new way via YAKiT’s powerful animation engine.

While Freak’n Genius captures the fun and commercial potential of Kinect for Windows v2, Reflexion Health shows just how powerful the new sensor can be to the healthcare field. As anyone who’s ever had a sports injury or accident knows, physical therapy (PT) can be a crucial part of their recovery. Physical therapists are rigorously trained and dedicated to devising a tailored regimen of manual treatment and therapeutic exercises that will help their patients mend. But increasingly, patients’ in-person treatment time has shrunk to mere minutes, and, as any physical therapist knows, once patients leave the clinic, many of them lose momentum, often struggling  to perform the exercises correctly at home—or simply skipping them altogether.

Reflexion Health, based in San Diego, uses Kinect for Windows to augment their physical therapy program and give the therapists a powerful, data-driven new tool to help ensure that patients get the maximum benefit from their PT. Their application, named Vera, uses Kinect for Windows to track patients’ exercise sessions. The initial version of this app was built on the original Kinect for Windows, but the team eagerly—and easily—adapted the software to the v2 sensor and SDK. The new sensor’s improved depth sensing and enhanced skeletal tracking, which delivers information on more joints, allows the software to capture the patient’s exercise moves in far more precise detail.  It provides patients with a model for how to do the exercise correctly, and simultaneously compares the patient’s movements to the prescribed exercise. The Vera system thus offers immediate, real-time feedback—no more wondering if you’re lifting or twisting in the right way.  The data on the patient’s movements are also shared with the therapist, so that he or she can track the patient’s progress and adjust the exercise regimen remotely for maximum therapeutic benefit.

Not only does the Kinect for Windows application provide better results for patients and therapists, it also fills a need in an enormous market. PT is a $30 billion business in the United States alone—and a critical tool in helping to manage the $127 billion burden of musculoskeletal disorders. By extending the expertise and oversight of the best therapists, Reflexion Health hopes to empower and engage patients, helping to improve the speed and quality of recovery while also helping to control the enormous costs that come from extra procedures and re-injury. Moreover, having the Kinect for Windows v2 supported in the Windows Store stands to open up home distribution for Reflexion Health. 

Mark Barrett, a lead software engineer at Reflexion Health, is struck by the rewards of working on the app. Coming from a background in the games industry, he now enjoys using Kinect technology to “try and tackle such a large and meaningful problem. That’s just a fantastic feeling.”  As a developer, he finds the improved skeletal tracking the v2 sensor’s most significant change, calling it a real step forward from the original Kinect for Windows. “It’s so much more precise,” he says. “There are more joints, and they’re in more accurate positions.”  And while the skeletal tracking has made the greatest improvement in Reflexion Health’s app—giving both patients and clinicians more accurate and actionable data on precise body movements—Barrett is also excited for the new color camera and depth sensor, which together provide a much better image for the physical therapist to review.  “You see such a better representation of the patient…It was jaw-dropping the first time I saw it,” he says.

But like any cautious dev, Barrett acknowledges being apprehensive about porting the application to the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor.  Happily, he discovered that the switch was painless, commenting that “I’ve never had a hardware conversion from one version to the next be so effortless and so easy.” He’s also been pleased to see how easy the application is for patients to use. “It’s so exciting to be working on a solution that has the potential to help so many people and make people’s lives better. To know that my skills as a developer can help make this possible is a great feeling.”

From creating your own animations to building a better path for physical rehabilitation, the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor is already in the hands of thousands of developers. We can’t wait to make it publicly available this summer and see what the rest of you do with the technology.

The Kinect for Windows Team

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