Cem Keskin, a researcher over at Microsoft Labs, demonstrated a great new evolution of the Kinect hardware, Microsoft's awesome depth-sensing, body-mapping, voice-recognizing accessory to the Xbox 360. Up until now, commercial Kinects have not been able to detect individual movements of the hands and fingers; everything above the wrist just showed up as a single dot. Open hand, closed fist, give the machine the finger, it'd have no idea. But not anymore. Technologically, more detailed sensing has been possible for awhile; the Leap Motion sensor can detect very precise and delicate motions of the fingers, as can the upcoming armband-based MYO system.
Kinect is a cheap consumer product, designed for gaming and entertainment browsing, so there hasn't really been much need to give the machine significantly more precise sensors. But with the successor to the Xbox 360 coming soonish--it'll probably be announced at or around this summer's E3 conference--it's time for a new Kinect as well.
Add to that the difficulty Microsoft has been having with Windows 8 (according to hardware maker Asus and others, sales have not been great) and Windows Phone (which has also struggled with sales and adoption rates), and you've got a Microsoft with a lot to gain. Kinect could be that one element that really sets Microsoft apart--no other company has anywhere near the adoption rates for this kind of gesture-control system.
This demo shows Kinect working on WIndows 8, recognizing individual hand motions and showing how multitouch interaction could work. It relies on a "grabbing" motion, in which you close your fist to select, but it lets you zoom in on Bing Maps, scroll through menus, open and close programs, and more. It's still not nearly as precise as Leap, but we're not really sure how accurate the system even is. Sure seems fun to bounce around Windows 8's homescreen with gestures!
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