Microsoft Xbox Kinect is a huge hit for consumers. Now VARs want to see if they can replicate that success in business.
That quest got a bit easier with the release in June of a Xbox Kinect software development kit (SDK) that allows a Kinect motion-sensing input device to integrate with Windows 7 applications.
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Kinect lets users control their computers using gestures or body motions instead of keyboards, joysticks or mice. That could make the Kinect-enabled software useful for applications in hazardous environments, for training in manual tasks and even physical therapy.
Mark Roxberry, senior consultant at Database Solutions Inc., is working with the occupational therapy unit of a Pennsylvania hospital to figure out what kinds of applications work for patients.
“Right now, we’re focusing on therapy services, such as mimicking applications, and daily living services, including patient micro-interactions with mice and keyboards,” Roxberry said.
Factory or other industrial environments are good prospects for what could be remote control applications where a user, safely away from any threat, manipulates an on-site robot or other machinery.
There are also opportunities with Windows 8, which reportedly will incorporate Kinect support or at least offer facial recognition features similar to those in Kinect. In theory, this would let a PC detect its user’s presence and log him on when he enters the room.
Kinect caused quite a stir when it was demonstrated at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference last month in Los Angeles. At that time, several VARs were intrigued by possible business uses.
“It will be interesting. If the rumors are true that Windows 8 will have Kinect hardware built into it, I think the micro-touch and gesture applications may work in a smaller space,” Roxberry said. “But I also don’t see a large group of people in an office swiping at monitors.”
“What really surprised me was that I talked to a few other [VARs] about using Kinect to build applications,” Cliff Sweazey, executive VP of Innovative Integration Inc., said at the time. “It impressed the hell out of me. For example, you can create remote physical therapy applications, and I’ve got my guys working on this right now.”
Is Kinect ready for prime time?
Not everyone is sold on near-term viability for Kinect business applications.
Skip Gould, president and CEO of BrightPlanIT Inc., said that while there are some great ideas being tossed around since Microsoft opened up Kinect to hackers, he doesn’t see much business user interest yet.
“We do a lot of work in the medical community and really don’t see it as an option at the moment,” Gould said. “And people in a business environment who want just video conferencing can use an HD Web camera.”
As Kinect matures, customers might look to it for remotely monitoring a child or for elder care where a Web camera isn’t enough, Gould said.
Rob Husted, solutions architect of Cerium Networks Inc., is also undecided about Kinect’s business prospects. “I’m not sure yet, but I do think it will be important to the work-life balance between the home user and business user,” he said. “I could see an instance where you could see a doctor from your house while he’s still in his office.”
If Kinect, which debuted in November 2010, does make a splash in IT, it would just be the latest of several consumer-oriented technologies that forced their way inside the firewall. This “consumerization of IT" trend was repeatedly highlighted at this year’s WPC, where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer cited the strong interest in Kinect shown by business customers and partners.
“We had the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history, the fastest to 10 million ever with the Kinect product. And yet I feel like we're just scratching the surface,” Ballmer said. “We had hackers come along and hack up Kinect and say, we need it for business applications. We came with an SDK so you can use it now to build a variety of business applications for vision and voice recognition.”