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Kinect:Microsoft’s latest billion dollar baby.Technophiles/ Developers latest crush

Posted in New Technologies by Manas Ganguly on January 25, 2011

Kinect is not only one of the best things that has happened to Microsoft after a long time, it also possibly is the most remarkable product after iPhone and iPad. Apart from its impressive numbers, Kinect’s real success is in terms of being able to initiate innovation amongst developers. While Microsoft was initially against tampering of the hardware, the quality of the results that are coming in has forced it to tamper down its strict approach to tampering and jailbreaking.

Its been a long time, and a real long one at that since we heard something very positive and very good from the Microsoft stable. Microsoft has taken a lot of heat for its inability to innovate, but Kinect has proved that Microsoft is still in the game. The controller-free system for the Xbox 360 received almost universally glowing reviews and shipped 8 million units in the first quarter, making it one of the fastest selling tech product debuts in history. It also debuts fastest in the Microsoft $1 billion businesses. At $150 selling price and $59 BOM cost, Kinect is surely raking both margins and volumes.

While this is debatable, the initial inspiration came from Nintendo Wii, whose motion sensitive controller had made gaming more interactive. The idea was to get rid of the controller. Microsoft bought in a few key technologies from external companies mostly in the field of 3D imaging a human-motion sensing camera. With a start as brilliant as 8 million devices, the Kinect has evoked widespread anticipation, excitement and response amongst technolophiles. Kinect’s combination of sophisticated sensors and affordable price are opening up new possibilities for technophiles working in art, filmmaking, robotics and music. What perhaps is the greatest endorsement to Kinect’s abilities is that within a few days after launch it inspired a communal effort at hacking the software and use the Kinect hardware with PCs and other devices with free, open source code. This was called OpenKinect. As a result, the Kinect has already been used in countless ways its creators never anticipated. Within a quarter OpenKinect had 1650 people registered working as a part of open community innovating on Kinect.

Microsoft was initially skeptical. Perhaps recognizing the value of this innovation, Microsoft has since backed off their strict anti-tampering stance, even going so far as to have spokespeople appearing on the Science Friday podcast say that the port being used to connect the Kinect to PCs was “left open by design.”

Kinect was an extension of the NUI project.This Natural User Interface technology, or NUI, is already present on smart phones and tablets that feature multi-touch, pinch-to-zoom and other intuitive gesture-based control systems, but could be expanded to replace the television remote, the mouse and keyboard, and to introduce technology into new avenues of life.

Here are an assortment of the OpenKinect innovations on the Kinect platform:

Kinect Open Gravity

Kinect Illuminous

Kinect Depth Sculpting Probe

Kinect Keyboard Anywhere

XBox Kinect: Real Time Motion Gaming Dawns (Part II)

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on June 22, 2010

Here’s how this genie works (courtesy Paul Miller):

“Kinect combines a few detection mechanisms to build up a rather accurate and comprehensive amount of 3D data on what’s going on inside a room. There’s a color camera for taking pictures, recognizing faces, and so forth, but the real magic happens with the monochrome CMOS camera sensor that’s paired up with an IR blaster. Microsoft calls this its “depth sensor,” and the light and shadow of that image (lit by the human eye-invisible IR spectrum) is analyzed to build a 3D map of the objects within Kinect’s field of view. Finally, there’s a multi-array microphone setup to detect location of voices and to cancel out ambient noise, allowing for video chats without a headset. All of this sits atop a motorized tilting base of sorts, which when used in conjunction with skeletal and facial tracking, Kinect can pan and tilt to keep its sensors trained on you as you move around the room. One down side of the motorized base, however, along with the rest of the fairly complicated electronics, is that the Kinect hardware isn’t tiny: it’s about a hand’s width tall, about as deep, and around a foot wide. When you think about it, the entire Wii occupies less cubic real estate. It shouldn’t have much trouble squeezing in up in front of your LCD TV, but good luck trying to balance it on top, and we have no idea how folks who hang their TVs on the wall should approach this situation.

One thing that Microsoft has actually left out of Kinect is a dedicated processor. The original plan was purportedly to have the Kinect pull its own load, allowing the Xbox 360’s processors to run free in rendering games. In the interest of cost, however, the processor got cut and now the Xbox is taking a 10-15% processor hit. Reports are conflicting as to whether or not that’s going to impact the sort of games that make it onto the system, but either way it pretty much rules out retrofitting older games for a new Kinect control scheme.

There are divergent reports on lag, but 100-150ms seems to be around where Kinect is playing (Sony claims a 22ms lag for PlayStation Move). During that time the system is tracking and processing 48 skeleton points in 3D space, watching up to two people, and repeating the process at around 30 fps.”

Kinect will be bundled along with the Xbox 360 and while the Xbox 360 has a tag of $199, the Kinect bundles will cost $399 for elite and $299 for arcade.

Microsoft has wowed the journos and analysts alike with the experience of real games, real gameplay, and real hardware, and a very real desire to get hands on with this new technology. The wait is set and we have a date with the Kinect, this 4th November 2010.

XBox Kinect: Real Time Motion Gaming Dawns (Part I)

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on June 21, 2010

Microsoft Project Natal finally sees the light of the day November 4th 2010 and it has a new name: Kinect. This is a part of the overall Microsoft strategy to use Natural motions as user interfaces.

The strange alien shaped machine which will be bundled along with the New Xbox 360 has not been named yet. The device specializes in Motion Gaming (which is what Natal was all about) with a dual/multi player capability, three dimensional approximation, Voice control mechanism, Social networking Apps: Twitter, Facebook, Zune and Netflix and a Video Chat App. Click here for more details of the games, device and user experience.

The interface is kept simple: You wave your hand to control a glowing cursor of sorts, and you push forward to “click” on the element you want.

Quoting Paul Miller on the Kinect Lite:
“In some ways, it’s pretty charming, with fun, jazzed up icons (when you hover over them they tilt and show off depth), a simplistic layout, and some great voice controls. The downside is this all comes at the cost of a brand new, fairly redundant interface for accessing functions that are already available with your Xbox 360 controller in the regular Dashboard. Still, there’s no denying the joy of waving a hand to log in, hovering over icons to select channels (though the wait-to-click mechanism strikes us as eventually frustrating), and scrubbing through media with very intuitive gestures.

Microsoft goes NUI as a step into future

Posted in Applications and User Interfaces, Internet and Search, New Technologies by Manas Ganguly on January 11, 2010

Microsoft looks to Natural User interfaces (as against Graphic user interface) for its big leap into the future.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is finally taking and talking about its leap into the future. The 6th January Key Note address that Steve Ballmer delivered at Las Vegas sees the company talking about future with technologies that are disruptive rather than incremental. The Huffington Post featured this article penned by Ballmer on Microsoft and its future plans.

In my keynote Wednesday night at CES, the annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, I talked about a number of trends transforming the role that technology plays in our lives — trends like the proliferation of ever cheaper and lighter HD screens, the combination of smart devices and powerful PCs connected to the cloud and the changing nature of television when combined with innovative software.

But if I had to pick one technology trend I think will have a major impact this year, it’s the entirely new ways in which computing technology will work more naturally alongside us.

For years, we’ve relied on familiar GUI (graphical user interface) tools and methods — the keyboard and mouse; menus and commands; clicking and scrolling; files and folders — to control and manipulate computers and the applications that run on them.

But I believe we will look back on 2010 as the year we expanded beyond the mouse and keyboard and started incorporating more natural forms of interaction such as touch, speech, gestures, handwriting, and vision — what computer scientists call the “NUI” or natural user interface. This process is already well underway through the proliferation of new touch screen phones and PCs, and in our growing reliance on voice-controlled in-car technology for communications, navigation, and entertainment.

In some ways, this transformation has been a long time coming. For many years now, Microsoft has been working on NUI-based technologies such as speech, touch, contextual and environmental awareness, immersive 3D experiences, and anticipatory computing — all with the goal of a computer that can see, listen, learn, talk and act smartly on our behalf. Ever since the development of the first computers, this lofty goal has been one of the most challenging problems in computer science. But an incredible expansion in computing power along with new breakthroughs in software have enabled us to solve many of these problems, putting us at the verge of an important leap forward.

Microsoft’s recent work in the area of video gaming is starting to bring NUI to life in a tangible way. As we shared at CES, an ambitious effort codenamed “Project Natal” which uses sophisticated sensors and software to track body movements, recognize faces, and respond to spoken directions is something we plan to bring to market by holiday of this year. With Project Natal your whole body is turned into a video game controller, so that you can enjoy games with friends the same way that you play them in the real world — by talking, shouting, running, swinging, and a million other movements and gestures.

While Project Natal will transform the video gaming and in-home entertainment experience, I believe it only hints at the potential of the technology behind it. In the near future, computers will do more than work at our command: they will work on our behalf, acting as assistants that understand what we want and possessing the intelligence to carry out complex tasks in a way that accurately reflects — and even predicts — our preferences and intentions.

Simply put, NUI is about easing discovery so that the computing technology that surrounds you acts as a more natural and dynamic partner, not a tool, for helping you work, live and have fun. And, I believe these advances will help usher in a new generation of human-computer interaction this decade.

This then is the most “forward looking” and “direction pointer” statement that’s come from Microsoft Steve Ballmer in a long time. For the record, there are those who think that CEO Ballmer was long lost in the Smartphone space with Winmo as ever. Then there was Google that was snapping at the heels of the beleaguered software giant.

Azure, Microsoft’s venture into Cloud computing and the NUI/Natural User Interface are Microsoft’s bets into the future. It is heartening to see that Projects such as Natal and Surface are finally gaining traction and would see mainline inclusion in times to come. Way to Go Microsoft!


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