Getting technology to do what you want can be challenging. Imagine building a remote-controlled robot in 6 weeks, from pre-defined parts, which can perform various tasks in a competitive environment. That’s the challenge presented to 2,500 teams of students who will be participating in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.
The worldwide competition, open to students in grades 9-12, kicks off this morning with a NASA-televised event, including pre-recorded opening remarks from Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush, Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST and inventor of the Segway, and Alex Kipman, General Manager, Hardware Incubation, Xbox.
Last year, several FIRST teams experimented with the Kinect natural user interface capabilities to control their robots. The difference this year is the Kinect hardware and software will be included in the parts kits teams receive to build their robots. Teams will be able to control their robots not only with joy sticks, but gestures and possibly spoken commands.
The first part of the competition is the autonomous period, in which robot can only be controlled by sensor input and commands. This is when the depth and speech capabilities of Kinect will prove extremely useful.
To help teams understand how to incorporate Kinect technologies into the design of their robot controls for the 2012 competition, workshops are being held around the country. Students will be using C# or C++ to program the drive stations of their robots to recognize and respond to gestures and poses.
In addition, Microsoft Stores across the country are teaming up with FIRST robotics teams to provide Kinect tools, technical support, and assistance.
While winning teams get bragging rights, all participants gain real-world experience by working with professional engineers to build their team’s robot, using sophisticated hardware and software, such as the Kinect for Windows SDK. Team members also gain design, programming, project management, and strategic thinking experience. Last but not least, over $15 million of college scholarships will be awarded throughout the competition.
“The ability to utilize Kinect technologies and capabilities to transform the way people interact with computers already has sparked the imagination of thousands of developers, students, and researchers from around the world,” notes FIRST founder Dean Kamen. “We look forward to seeing how FIRST students utilize Kinect in the design and manipulation of their robots, and are grateful to Microsoft for participating in the competition as well as offering their support and donating thousands of Kinect sensors.”
This morning’s kick-off of the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition was a highly anticipated day. Approximately 2,500 teams worldwide were given a kit of 600-700 discrete parts including a Kinect sensor and the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK), along with the details and rules for this year’s game, Rebound Rumble. Learn how Kinect for Windows will play a role in this year’s game by watching the game animation.
Kinect for Windows team
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.
Although no two people learn in exactly the same way, the process of learning typically involves seeing, listening/speaking, and touching. For most young children, all three senses are engaged in the process of grasping a new concept.
For example, when a red wooden block is given to a toddler, they hear the words “red” and “block,” see the color red, and also use their hands to touch and feel the shape of the wooden block.
Uzma Khan, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, realized the Kinect natural user interface (NUI) could provide similar experiences. She used the Kinect for Windows SDK to create a prototype of an application that utilizes speech and gestures to simplify complex learning, and make early childhood education more fun and interactive.
The application asks young children to perform an activity, such as identify the animals that live on a farm. Using their hands to point to the animals on a computer screen, along with voice commands, the children complete the activities. To reinforce their choices, the application praises them when they make a correct selection.
Using the speech and gesture recognition capabilities of Kinect enables children to not only learn by seeing, listening, and speaking; it lets them actively participate by selecting, copying, moving, and manipulating colors, shapes, objects, patterns, letters, numbers, and much more.
The creation of applications to aid learning for people of all ages is one of the many ways we anticipate Kinect for Windows will be used to enable a future in which computers work more naturally and intelligently to improve our lives.
Sheridan JonesBusiness and Strategy Director, Kinect for Windows
Since announcing a few weeks ago that the Kinect for Windows commercial program will launch in early 2012, we’ve been asked whether there will also be new Kinect hardware especially for Windows. The answer is yes; building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios. Coupled with the numerous upgrades and improvements our team is making to the Software Development Kit (SDK) and runtime, the new hardware delivers features and functionality that Windows developers and Microsoft customers have been asking for.
Simple changes include shortening the USB cable to ensure reliability across a broad range of computers and the inclusion of a small dongle to improve coexistence with other USB peripherals. Of particular interest to developers will be the new firmware which enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 centimeters in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 centimeters. “Near Mode” will enable a whole new class of “close up” applications, beyond the living room scenarios for Kinect for Xbox 360. This is one of the most requested features from the many developers and companies participating in our Kinect for Windows pilot program and folks commenting on our forums, and we’re pleased to deliver this, and more, at launch.
Another thing we’ve heard from our pilot customers is that companies exploring commercial uses of Kinect want to operate with the assurance of support and future innovation from Microsoft. As part of Microsoft’s deep commitment to NUI, we designed the Kinect for Windows commercial program to give licensed customers access to ongoing updates in both speech and human tracking (where Microsoft has been investing for years), in addition to providing fully supported Kinect hardware for Windows. We’ve been captivated by the countless creative ways companies worldwide envision how their businesses and industries can be revolutionized with Kinect, and are proud to be helping those companies to explore the profound implications NUI has for the future.
Microsoft also has just launched a new initiative, the Kinect Accelerator incubation project run by Microsoft BizSpark. I will be serving as a Mentor for this program, along with a number of other folks from Microsoft. BizSpark helps software startups through access to Microsoft software development tools, connection to key industry players (including investors) and by providing marketing visibility. The Kinect Accelerator will give 10 tech-oriented companies using Kinect (on either Windows or Xbox360) an investment of $20,000 each, plus a number of other great perks. Applications are being accepted now through January 25th, 2012. At the end of the program, each company will have an opportunity to present at an Investor Demo Day to angel investors, venture capitalists, Microsoft executives (including me), media and industry influentials. I can’t wait to see what they (and maybe you?) come up with!
Craig EislerGeneral Manager, Kinect for Windows
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.
General Manager, Kinect for Windows
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of Kinect and the Kinect Effect, I sent an email to my team earlier this week. I’d like to quote for you what I said to them, “It all started with a revolutionary sensor and amazing software that turned voice and movement into magic. With that magical combination, last year the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft showed the world how to re-imagine gaming. This year, we’re showing the world how to re-imagine entertainment. Next year, with Kinect for Windows, we will help the world re-imagine everything else.”
To mark the milestone, the Kinect for Windows team is celebrating with our own milestones: We’re starting up this blog, launching the official Kinect for Windows web site, and releasing beta 2 of the Kinect for Windows SDK. (And, yes, we will celebrate the anniversary more this evening– it’s been an amazing journey these past months!)
I know many of you are eagerly awaiting the Kinect for Windows commercial program coming in early 2012. My team is working hard to deliver a great product and I’m confident that it will be worth the wait.
We’ve already seen strong enthusiasm for Kinect among developers who have done amazing things with it in countless different ways, from education to healthcare, gaming to art installations, manufacturing to retail.
Currently, we have more than 200 companies taking part in our pilot program. They are telling us how Kinect for Windows will help them transform their products, their processes, their brands, and their businesses. Putting the power of Kinect + Windows into the hands of business leaders and technical visionaries will give them the tools they need to develop novel solutions for everything from training employees to visualizing data, from configuring a car to managing an assembly line.
The updated software development kit that we released today includes some great new features that help us get closer to realizing this vision, including faster skeletal tracking, better accuracy rate when it comes to skeletal tracking and joint recognition, and the ability to plug and unplug your Kinect without losing work/productivity.
Every day, I come to work and learn about another amazing application that a partner or other developer is doing with Kinect for Windows. I look forward to next year, when the potential goes exponential and everyone’s ideas, including yours, are part of that equation.
If you haven’t done so already, download the SDK and re-imagine the world with us.
--Craig Eisler General Manager, Kinect for Windows