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    The Power of Enthusiasm

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    OpenKinect founder Josh Blake at Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows Code CampWhen 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.

    Kinect developer Halimat Alabi at Microsoft’s 24-hour coding marathon, June 2011As 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 Eisler
    General Manager, Kinect for Windows

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    Unique Cancer Treatment Center alex's place Uses Kinect for Windows to Help Put Kids at Ease

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    Adrian Ruiz plays with an interactive robot during a visit to Alex's Place.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."

    Kinect for Windows team

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    Enabling retailers to drive business in new, innovative ways

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    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:

    • NUI offers one of the best ways to interact with large screens in stores.
    • Exploring virtual merchandise by gesturing naturally is easy, engaging, and fun for customers.
    • Immersive experiences can improve the purchase process and are an impactful way to market and sell to customers.

    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.


    This enjoyable and easy-to-use application engages new customers by helping them understand and experience the resort, while also providing them with an offer to receive a discount on future stays.



    This digital sign application is powered by Kinect for Windows and makes it easy for shoppers to engage with products, try them on, and purchase them. It also incorporates social media for additional marketing reach.



    This last video demonstrates the ability to welcome a person or people into an immersive real-time experience with the store’s merchandise. It demonstrates the Kinect Fusion scanning features that can be used as part of this and many other retail experiences.


    These videos highlight some of the core benefits retailers tell us Kinect for Windows offers them:

    • Capture a customer's attention
    • Educate customers about products
    • Move a customer through the decision-making cycle to close a sale

    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.

    Kinect for Windows Team

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    Kinect for Windows shines at the 2014 NRF Convention

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    This week, some 30,000 retailers from around the world descended on New York’s Javits Center for the 2014 edition of the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention and Expo, better known as “Retail’s BIG Show.” With an exhibit space covering nearly four football fields and featuring more than 500 vendors, an exhibitor could have been overlooked easily—but not when your exhibit displayed retailing innovations that use the power of the Microsoft Kinect for Windows sensor and SDK. Here are some of the Kinect experiences that attracted attention on the exhibit floor.

    Visitors at the Kinect for Windows demo station

    NEC Corporation of America demonstrated a “smart shelf” application that makes the most of valuable retail space by tailoring the messaging on digital signage to fit the shopper. At the heart of this system is Kinect for Windows, which discerns shoppers who are interested in the display and uses analytics to determine such consumer attributes as age, gender, and level of engagement. On the back end, the data captured by Kinect is delivered to a dashboard where it can be further mined for business intelligence. Allen Ganz, a senior account development manager at NEC, praises the Kinect-based solution, noting that it “provides unprecedented actionable insights for retailers and brands at the point-of-purchase decision.”

    Razorfish displayed two different Kinect-based scenarios, both of which highlight an immersive consumer experience that’s integrated across devices. The first scenario engages potential customers by involving them in a Kinect-driven beach soccer game. In this dual-screen experience, one customer has the role of striker, and uses his or her body movements—captured by the Kinect for Windows sensor—to dribble the ball and then kick it toward the goal. The other customer assumes the role of goalie; his or her avatar appears on the second display and its actions are controlled by the customer’s movements—again captured via the Kinect for Windows sensor—as he or she tries to block the shot. Customers who succeed, accumulate points that can be redeemed for a real (not virtual) beverage from a connected vending machine. Customers can work up a sweat in this game, so the beverage is a much-appreciated reward. But the real reward goes to the retailer, as this compelling, gamified experience creates unique opportunities for sales associates to connect with the shoppers.

    The second scenario from Razorfish also featured a beach theme. This sample experience is intended to take place in a surf shop, where customers design their own customized surfboard by using a Microsoft Surface. Then they use a Kinect-enabled digital signage application to capture images of the customized board against the background of one of the world’s top beaches. This image is immediately printed as a postcard, and a second copy is sent to the customer in an email. Here, too, the real goal is to engage customers, pulling them into an immersive experience that is personal, mobile, and social.

    Razorfish demos their customized surfboard scenario

    Above all, the Razorfish experiences help create a bond between the customer and a brand. “Kinect enables consumers to directly interact personally with a brand, resulting in a greater sense of brand loyalty,” notes Corey Schuman, a senior technical architect at Razorfish.

    Yet another compelling Kinect-enabled customer experience was demonstrated by FaceCake, whose Swivel application turns the computer into a virtual dressing room where a shopper can try on clothes and accessories with a simple click. The customer poses in front of a Kinect for Windows sensor, which captures his or her image. Then the shopper selects items from a photo display of clothing and accessories, and the application displays the shopper “wearing” the selected items. So, a curious shopper can try on, say, various dress styles until she finds one she likes. Then she can add a necklace, scarf, or handbag to create an entire ensemble. She can even split the screen to compare her options, showing side-by-side images of the same dress accessorized with different hats. And yes, this app works for male shoppers, too.

    The common theme in all these Kinect-enabled retail applications is customer engagement. Imagine seeing a digital sign respond to you personally, or getting involved in the creation of your own product or ideal ensemble. If you’re a customer, these are the kinds of interactive experiences that draw you in. In a world where every retailer is looking for new ways to attract and connect with customers, Kinect for Windows is engaging customers and helping them learn more about the products. The upshot is a satisfied customer who's made a stronger connection during their shopping experience, and a healthier bottom line for the retailer.

    The Kinect for Windows Team

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    Kinect Accelerator Program Seeking Innovators

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    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.

    Kinect for Windows team

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    Kinect for Windows Technologies: Boxing Robots to Limitless Possibilities

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    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.Life-sized BoxingBots are controlled by Kinect for Windows technologies

    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’s front and rear Kinect cameras transmit   a live video feed of surrounding pedestrians and objects directly to the interior dashboard displays.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 Fernandez
    Senior Director, Microsoft Channel 9

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    Siemens uses Kinect for Windows to improve nuclear plant employee safety

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    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
    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
    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.”

    Kinect for Windows team

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    Kinect for Windows Academic Pricing Update

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    Shortly after the commercial release of Kinect for Windows in early 2012, Microsoft announced the availability of academic pricing for the Kinect for Windows sensor to higher education faculty and students for $149.99 at the Microsoft Store in the United States. We are now pleased to announce that we have broadened the availability of academic pricing through Microsoft Authorized Educational Resellers (AERs).

    Most of these resellers have the capability to offer academic pricing directly to educational institutions; academic researchers; and students, faculty, and staff of public or private K-12 schools, vocational schools, junior colleges, colleges, universities, and scientific or technical institutions. In the United States, eligible institutions are accredited by associations that are recognized by the US Department of Education and/or the State Board of Education. Academic pricing on the Kinect for Windows sensor is currently available through AERs in the United States, Taiwan, and Hong Kong SAR.

    Within the academic community, the potential of Kinect for Windows in the classroom is generating a lot of excitement. Researchers and academia in higher education collaborate with Microsoft Research on a variety of projects that involve educational uses of Kinect for Windows. The educator driven community resource, KinectEDucation, encourages developers, teachers, students, enthusiasts and any other education stakeholders to help transform classrooms with accessible technology.
     
    One such development is a new product from Kaplan Early Learning Company, the Inspire-NG Move, bundled with the Kinect for Windows sensor. This bundle includes four educational programs for children age three years and older. The programs make it possible for children to experience that hands-on, kinesthetic play with a purpose makes learning fun. The bundle currently sells for US$499.

    “We’re excited about the new learning models that are enabled by Kinect for Windows,” stated Chris Gerblick, vice president of IT and Professional Services at Kaplan Early Learning Company. “We see the Inspire NG-Move family of products as excellent learning tools for both the classroom and the home.”

    With the availability of academic pricing, we look forward to many developments from the academic community that integrate Kinect for Windows into interactive educational experiences.

    Michael Fry
    Business Development, Strategic Alliances
    Kinect for Windows

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    An MVP’s look at the Kinect for Windows v2 developer preview

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    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.

    Kinect for Windows Team

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    The Kinect Effect

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    Have you heard about the “Kinect Effect” yet? It’s a term we started using around Microsoft shortly after the launch of Kinect last year to describe the amazing and creative ways Kinect was being applied to fields beyond gaming.

    We’ve seen exploration with Kinect by artists, entertainers, retailers, educators, and physical therapists (just to name a few.)  In fact, we’ve seen research in nearly every area imaginable.

    Check out the Kinect Effect to see what it’s all about. This video does a great job capturing the potential. And it’s this potential that drives the enthusiasm my team and I have for developing Kinect for Windows. 

    After just one short year, it still feels like every application is the first and each idea is new and fresh. We can’t wait to see what’s next when, early next year, Kinect for Windows will be available for commercial use. Then, we’ll see even more new ideas which will continue to inspire us, and others, to keep driving the innovation forward.

     

                                                                                                                      --Craig Eisler

                                                                                                       General Manager, Kinect for Windows

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