You may have seen Microsoft's Kinect accessory for the Xbox in the news lately. It has just launched in the US, with other parts of the world about to follow. For the uninitiated, Kinect is a new way to interact and play games on an Xbox without using any controller. It's a camera that sits on top of the TV, which picks up the user's movements and translates those into gaming actions such as hitting a tennis ball. For those who have played with family on the Wii, the process will be familiar - however Kinect does away with having to hold a controller - YOU are the controller!
Kinect has been well received with generally favourable reviews.
So what has this got to do with the world of manufacturing I hear you say. Well, I have been saying for some time to people to not think of Kinect as a gaming technology. Instead, to think of it as a new interface technology - Natural User Interface (sorry, a new TLA enters the lexicon - NUI). It's not a gaming technology per se - it just happens that Microsoft chose gaming as the first scenario in which to try this concept out and develop the market.
This is part of a progression - a journey - on making computers and software easier to use. It started with Office Business Applications, which is a methodology for putting an Office user interface ("front-end") onto complex enterprise software applications to make these applications easier to use and more widely used within a company.
Next was Surface. Surface is the "table style" computer which users interact with by touch (or multi-touch as the industry term is to distinguish it from the crude touchscreens of the '80s). There is no keyboard or mouse. The interaction is much more natural and engaging. Because of its relatively high price, Surface scenarios were more in situations such as upmarket hotels or car dealerships. But there were also scenarios relevant to our industry such as this example for visualisation of proteins and my team developed a video showing how Surface could be used on the manufacturing plant floor.
This is now entering the mass market with some of the multi-touch capabilities of Surface already in Windows 7 (though you will probably be unaware of this fact unless your hardware makes use of these features).
Influential blogger and Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley has commented on the same train of thought in her blog. An excerpt reads
"If you hearken back to those Windows 8 partner slides that leaked earlier this year, you may recall that facial recognition and proximity sensing were on the short list off NUI interactions possible by 2012.
However, it is clear that Microsoft’s longer term plan is to make use of Kinect or Kinect-like sensor technology into more than just its gaming consoles."
There are also reports and rumours of people already experimenting, independently, with Kinect.
What are your thoughts on scenarios and possibilities of this in the process manufacturing industries?