The Imagine Cup competition—which recently concluded its tenth year—throws the spotlight on cutting-edge innovations. Two-thirds of the education-focused projects utilized Microsoft Kinect in a variety of different ways, including interactive therapy for stroke victims, an automated cart to help make solo trips to crowded public places manageable for the disabled, and an application to help dyslexic children learn the alphabet.
Team Wi-GO of Portugal invented a Kinect-enabled cart to aid the disabled.
Students from 75 countries participated in the Imagine Cup Finals, held July 6 to 11 in Sydney, Australia, which featured more than 100 projects. Kinect for Windows played a significant role in this year's competition, with 28 Kinect-enabled projects across multiple categories—including Software Design, Game Design, Windows Azure, and a Fun Labs Challenge that was focused entirely on Kinect.
With the goal of using technology to help solve the world's toughest problems, students put Kinect to work providing the digital eyes, ears, and tracking capabilities needed for a range of potential new products and applications. We applaud all of the teams who incorporated Kinect for Windows into their projects this year! Here are highlights from a few of them:
"Imagine Cup is about giving students the resources and tools they need to succeed and then getting out of their way and letting them create," said Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism group. "Kinect in particular is unlocking a new class of interactive solutions. It's inspiring to watch the way students from a multitude of backgrounds find common ground as they combine their love of technology with their determination to make a difference. It's amazing."
We look forward to next year’s Imagine Cup. In the meantime, keep up the great work.
Kinect for Windows Team
• Kinect for Windows Gallery• Imagine Cup website• Imagine Cup winners and finalists• Team wi-GO • Team Whiteboard Pirates • Team Flexify• Italian Ingenium Team• The D Labs• Make a Sign
It is essential for retailers to find ways to attract and connect with customers—and to stand out from the competition. To help them do so, the industry is grappling with how to build interactive experiences at scale that engage and truly help customers make satisfying purchasing decisions while also using retail space strategically to provide the best possible experience.
To get a deeper understanding of what this means, we did extensive first-hand research with dozens of retailers and big brands . We learned how retailers think about implementing natural user interface technology (NUI) and how they see these experiences helping propel their businesses forward.
What we heard:
We agree. And we believe it’s important for us to bring these findings back into Kinect for Windows by delivering features that facilitate the best retail innovations. To help support this, we recently released an update to our SDK (Kinect for Windows SDK 1.8) that includes new features specifically designed to enable the development of higher-quality digital signage applications. Key features include the ability to remove backgrounds, an adaptive UI sample, and an HTML interaction sample.
To help illustrate what this all means, our team developed the following three videos. They show how Kinect for Windows experiences can help retailers attract new customers and engage customers in deeper ways. They offer examples of ways that digital signs powered by Kinect for Windows can draw customers into the business—making it possible for retailers to share offerings, cross-sell and upsell merchandise, bring the “endless aisle” concept to life, and, ultimately, inspire shoppers to purchase. And all of this is accomplished in a beautiful way that feels natural to the customer.
These videos highlight some of the core benefits retailers tell us Kinect for Windows offers them:
Kinect for Windows does this by optimizing interactions with existing large screens and enhancing the overall retail space—using gesture and voice control, background removal, proximity-based interface, and more.
So many companies have already created exciting retail experiences with Kinect for Windows: Bloomingdales, Build-a-Bear, Coca-Cola, Mattel, Nissan, Pepsi, and others. We are excited to see the new ways that Kinect for Windows is being applied in retail. The dramatic shifts in consumer shopping behaviors, preferences, and expectations in retail today are driving innovation to new levels. The possibilities are endless when we use the latest technology to put the customer at the heart of the business.
Students, teachers, researchers, and other educators have been quick to embrace Kinect’s natural user interface (NUI), which makes it possible to interact with computers using movement, speech, and gestures. In fact, some of the earliest Kinect for Windows applications to emerge were projects done by students, including several at last year’s Imagine Cup.
One project, from an Imagine Cup team in Italy, created an application for people with severe disabilities that enables them to communicate, learn, and play games on computers using a Kinect sensor instead of a traditional mouse or keyboard. Another innovative Imagine Cup project, done by university students in Russia, used the Kinect natural user interface to fold, rotate, and examine online origami models.
To encourage students, educators, and academic researchers to continue innovating with Kinect for Windows, special academic pricing on Kinect for Windows sensors is now available in the United States. The academic price is $149.99 through Microsoft Stores.
If you are an educator or faculty with an accredited school, such as a university, community college, vocational school, or K-12, you can purchase a Kinect for Windows sensor at this price.
Find out if you qualify, and then purchase online or visit a Microsoft store in your area.
Kinect for Windows team
When we launched Kinect for Xbox 360 on November 4th, 2010, something amazing happened: talented Open Source hackers and enthusiasts around the world took the Kinect and let their imaginations run wild. We didn’t know what we didn’t know about Kinect on Windows when we shipped Kinect for Xbox 360, and these early visionaries showed the world what was possible. What we saw was so compelling that we created the Kinect for Windows commercial program.
Our commercial program is designed to allow our partners— companies like Toyota, Mattel, American Express, Telefonica, and United Health Group—to deploy solutions to their customers and employees. It is also designed to allow early adopters and newcomers alike to take their ideas and release them to the world on Windows, with hardware that’s supported by Microsoft. At the same time, we wanted to let our early adopters keep working on the hardware they’d previously purchased. That is why our SDK continues to support the Kinect for Xbox 360 as a development device.
As I reflect back on the past eleven months since Microsoft announced we were bringing Kinect to Windows, one thing is clear: The efforts of these talented Open Source hackers and enthusiasts helped inspire us to develop Kinect for Windows faster. And their continued ambition and drive will help the world realize the benefits of Kinect for Windows even faster still. From all of us on the Kinect for Windows team: thank you.
Craig EislerGeneral Manager, Kinect for Windows
A unique clinic for treating children with cancer and blood disorders, alex’s place is designed to be a warm, open, communal space. The center—which is located in Miami, Florida—helps put its patients at ease by engaging them with interactive screens that allow them to be transported into different environments—where they become a friendly teddy bear, frog, or robot and control their character’s movements in real time.
"As soon as they walk in, technology is embracing them," said Dr. Julio Barredo, chief of pediatric services at alex's place in The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health Systems.
The clinic—which opened its doors in May 2012—was conceived of and designed with this in mind, and the Kinect for Windows digital experience was part of the vision from day one. Created by Snibbe Interactive, Character Mirror was designed to fit naturally within this innovative, unconventional treatment environment. The goal is to help reinforce patients' mind-body connection with engaging play and entertainment, as well as to potentially reduce their fear of technology and the treatments they face. As an added benefit, nurses can observe a child's natural range of movement during play and more easily draw out answers to key diagnostic questions.
"I find the gestural interactive experiences we created for alex's place in Miami among the most worthwhile and satisfying in our history," said Scott Snibbe, founder and CEO of Snibbe Interactive. "Kids in hospitals are feeling lonely, scared, and bored, not to mention sick. Partnering with Alex Daly and Dr. Barredo, we created a set of magical experiences that encourage healthy, social, and physical activity among the kids.
"Kids found these experiences so pleasing that they actually didn't want to leave after their treatments were complete," Snibbe added. "We are very excited to roll out these solutions to more hospitals, and transform healthcare through natural user interfaces that promote social play and spontaneous physical therapy."
In March, ten startups will converge on Seattle to start developing commercial and gaming applications that utilize Kinect's innovative natural user interface (NUI). As part of the Microsoft Kinect Accelerator program, they will have three months and a wealth of resources—including access to Microsoft and industry mentors—to develop, and then present their applications to angel investors, venture capitalists, Microsoft executives, media, and influential industry leaders.
Since launching in late November, the Kinect Accelerator has received hundreds of applications from over forty countries, proposing transformative, creative innovations for healthcare, fitness, retail, training/simulation, automotive, scientific research, manufacturing, and much more.
Applications are still being accepted, and the Kinect Accelerator team encourages you to apply. Learn more about the application process.
The Kinect Accelerator program is powered by TechStars, one of the most respected technology accelerator programs in the world. Microsoft is working with TechStars to leverage the absolute best startup accelerator methodologies, mentors, and visibility. If you are considering building a business based on the capabilities of Kinect, this is a great opportunity for you.
Dave Drach, Managing Director, Microsoft Emerging Business Team, explains that the Kinect Accelerator program is looking for creative startups that have a passion for driving the next generation of computing. “Starting in the spring of 2012, they will have three months to bring their ideas to life. What will emerge will be applications and business scenarios that we’ve not seen before,” comments Drach.
Read more about the Kinect Accelerator program.
Most developers, including myself, are natural tinkerers. We hear of a new technology and want to try it out, exploring what it can do, dream up interesting uses, and pushing the limits of what’s possible. Most recently, the Channel 9 team incorporated Kinect for Windows into two projects: BoxingBots, and Project Detroit.
The life-sized BoxingBots made their debut in early March at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Each robot is equipped with an on-board computer, which receives commands from two Kinect for Windows sensors and computers. The robots are controlled by two individuals whose movements – punching, rotating, stepping forward and backwards – are interpreted by and relayed back to the robots, who in turn, slug it out, until one is struck and its pneumatic-controlled head springs up.
The use of Kinect for Windows for telepresence applications, like controlling a robot or other mechanical device, opens up a number of interesting possibilities. Imagine a police officer using gestures and word commands to remotely control a robot, exploring a building that may contain explosives. In the same vein, Kinect telepresence applications using robots could be used in the manufacturing, medical, and transportation industries.
Project Detroit asked the question, what do you get when you combine the world’s most innovative technology with a classic American car? The answer is a 2012 Ford Mustang with a 1967 fastback replica body, and everything from Windows Phone integration to built-in WiFI, Viper SmartStart security system, cloud services, augmented reality, Ford SYNC, Xbox-enabled entertainment system, Windows 8 Slate, and Kinect for Windows cameras built into the tail and headlights.
One of the key features we built for Project Detroit was the ability to read Kinect data including a video stream, depth data, skeletal joint data, and audio streams over the network using sockets (available here as an open source project). These capabilites could make it possible to receive an alert on your phone when someone gets too close to your car. You could then switch to a live video/audio stream, via a network from the Kinect, to see what they were doing. Using your phone, you could talk to them, asking politely that they “look, but not touch.”
While these technologies may not show up in production cars in the coming months (or years), Kinect for Windows technologies are suited for use in cars for seeing objects such as pedestrians and cyclists behind and in front of vehicles, making it easier to ease into tight parking spots, and enabling built-in electronic devices with the wave of a hand or voice commands.
It’s an exciting time to not only be a developer, but a business, organization or consumer who will have the opportunity to benefit from the evolving uses and limitless possibilities of the Kinect for Windows natural user interface.
Dan FernandezSenior Director, Microsoft Channel 9
As you might imagine, working in a nuclear power plant provides special challenges. One crucial aspect for any project is the need to minimize employee exposure to radiation by applying a standard known as As Low As Reasonably Achievable—ALARA for short.
How this works: Plant ALARA managers work with the maintenance groups to estimate how much time is required to perform a task and, allowing for exposure limits, they determine how many employees may be needed to safely complete it. Today, that work is typically done with pen and paper. But new tools from Siemens PLM Software that incorporate the Kinect for Windows sensor could change this by providing a 3-D virtual interactive modeling environment.
Kinect for Windows is used to capture realistic movement for use in the Siemens Teamcenter solution for ALARA radiation planning.
The solution, piloted at a US nuclear power plant last year, is built on Siemens’ Teamcenter software, using its Tecnomatix process simulate productivity product. Siemens PLM Software Tecnomatix provides virtual 3-D human avatars—“Jack” and “Jill”—that are integrated to model motion-controlled actions input with a Kinect for Windows sensor. This solution is helping to usher in a new era of industrial planning applications for employee health and safety in the nuclear industry.
"We're really revolutionizing the industry," said Erica Simmons, global marketing manager for Energy, Oil, and Gas Industries at Siemens PLM Software. "For us, this was a new way to develop a product in tandem with the industry associations. We created a specific use case with off-the-shelf technology and tested and validated it with industry. What we have now is a new visual and interactive way of simulating potential radiation exposure which can lead to better health and safety strategies for the plant."
Traditional pencil-and-paper planning (left) compared to the Siemens PLM Software Process Simulate on Teamcenter solution (right) with “Jack” avatar and Kinect for Windows movement input.
The Siemens Tecnomatix process planning application, integrated with the Kinect for Windows system, will give nuclear plant management the ability to better manage individual worker radiation exposure and optimize steps to reduce overall team exposure. As a bonus, once tasks have been recorded by using “Jack,” the software can be used for training. Employees can learn and practice an optimized task by using Kinect for Windows and Siemens “Jack” and “Jill”—safely outside of the radiation zone—until they have mastered it and are ready to perform the actual work.
"We wanted to add something more for the user of this solution in addition to our 3-D human avatars and the hazard zones created by our visual cartography; this led us to exploring what we could do with the Kinect for Windows SDK for this use case," said Dr. Ulrich Raschke, director of Human Simulation Technologies at Siemens PLM Software. “User feedback has been good so far; the addition of the Kinect for Windows system adds another level of interactivity to our application."
This Siemens solution grew out of a collaborative effort with Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Fiatech industry association, which identified the need for more technologically advanced estimation tools for worker radiation dosage. Kinect for Windows was incorporated when the developers were tailoring the avatar system to the solution and exploring ways to make the user experience much more interactive.
"Collaboration with several key stakeholders and industry experts led to this innovative solution," said Phung Tran, senior project manager at EPRI. "We're pleased the industry software providers are using it, and look forward to seeing the industry utilize these new tools."
“In fact,” Tran added, “the tool is not necessarily limited to radiation work planning. It could help improve the management and execution of many operation, maintenance, and project-based tasks.”
A few months ago, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) James Ashley, a leader in developing with Kinect for Windows, wrote a very perceptive blog about Kinect for Windows v2 entitled, Kinect for Windows v2 First Look. James’ blog was so insightful that we wanted to check in with him after being in the Developer Preview program for three months and learn more about his experiences with the preview sensor and his advice to fellow Kinect for Windows developers. Here’s our Q&A with James:
Microsoft: As a participant in the developer preview program, what cool things have you been doing with the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor and SDK over the past few months? Which features have you used, and what did you do with them?
James: My advanced technology group at Razorfish has been very interested in developing mixed-media and mixed-technology stories with the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor. We recently did a proof- of-concept digital store with the Windows 8 team for the National Retail Federation (aka “Retail’s BIG Show”) in New York. You've heard of pop-up stores? We took this a step further by pre-loading a shipping container with digital screens, high-lumen projectors, massive arrays of Microsoft Surface tablets, and Perceptive Pixel displays and having a tractor-trailer deposit it in the Javits Center in New York City. When you opened the container, you had an instant retail store. We used the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor and SDK to drive an interactive soccer game built in Unity’s 3D toolset, in which 3D soccer avatars were controlled by the player's full body movements: when you won a game, a signal was sent by using Arduino components to drop a drink from a vending machine.
Watch the teaser for Razorfish's interactive soccer game
We also used Kinect for Windows v2 to allow people to take pictures with digital items they designed on the Perceptive Pixel. We then dropped a beach scene they selected into the background of the picture, which was printed out on the spot as well as emailed and pushed to their social networks if they wanted. In creating this experience, the new time-of-flight depth camera in Kinect for Windows v2 proved to be leagues better than anything we were able to do with the original Kinect for Windows sensor; we were thrilled with how well it worked. [Editor’s note: You can learn more about these retail applications in this blog post.]Much closer to the hardware, we have also been working with a client on using Kinect for Windows v2 to do precise measurements, to see if the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor can be used in retail to help people get fitted precisely—for instance with clothing and other wearables. Kinect for Windows v2 promises accuracy of 2.5 cm at even 4 meters, so this is totally feasible and could transform how we shop.Microsoft: Which features do you find the most useful and/or the most exciting, and why?James: Right now, I'm most interested in the depth camera. It has a much higher resolution than some standard time-of-flight cameras currently selling for $8,000 or $9,000. Even though the Kinect for Windows v2 final pricing hasn't been announced yet, we can expect it to be much, much less than that. It's stunning that Microsoft was able to pull off this technical feat, providing both improved quality and improved value in one stroke. Microsoft: Have you heard from other developers, and if so, what are they saying about your applications and/or their impressions of Kinect for Windows v2?James: I'm on both the MVP list and the developer preview program's internal list, so I've had a chance to hear a lot of really great feedback. Basically, we all had to learn a lot of tricks to make things work the way we wanted with the original Kinect for Windows. With v2, it feels like we are finally getting all the hardware performance we've wanted and then some. Of course, the SDK is still under development and we're obviously still early on with the preview program. People need to be patient. Microsoft: Any words of advice or encouragement for other developers about using Kinect for Widows v2?James: If you are a C# developer and you haven't made the plunge, now is a good time to start learning Visual C++. All of the powerful interaction and visually intensive things you might want to do are taking advantage of C++ libraries like Cinder, openFrameworks, PCL, and OpenCV. It requires being willing to feel stupid again for about six months, but at the end of that time, you'll be glad you made the effort.
Our thanks to James for taking time to share his insights and experience with us. And as mentioned at the top of this post, you should definitely read James’ Kinect for Windows v2 First Look blog.
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.
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