Microsoft Kinect is getting beefed up for 2012. The motion sensor is undoubtedly a powerful piece of kit, but it’s currently limited to what the now aging Xbox 360 can process. Despite Kinect packing its own GPU, it’s hampered by the console it’s bound to, which is why Microsoft wants to move the future of the Kinect tech to your desktop in 2012. And not for gaming.
If Microsoft Kinect does make a move from home console to PC next year, it won’t be primarily for the benefit of gamers. While initial excitement over a more powerful sensor could indeed lend itself to aiming and sharp shooting on a Kinect Call of Duty, the added grunt will go far beyond that simplistic starting point.
With the Kinect Accelerator SDK pack now in the hands of start-ups and developers, it’s obvious that Microsoft wants to see what the collective ingenuity of the world’s hackers can produce with its pioneering hardware. With the more modern and powerful architecture of PCs the sky becomes the limit, which essentially means this: Kinect now has the potential to change the way you use your computer forever.
Here’s five future ways that a Kinect-powered desktop could transform computing:
1. Augmented reality shopping
Kinect’s ability to infuse you with onscreen augmented reality has already been put to the test in Moscow, where the country’s flagship TopShop store sports a kiosk that lets shoppers pick outfits and see themselves wearing them without having to step foot in a changing room.
On smaller scale, and from only a foot away from your computer screen, the accuracy of this application will be greatly enhanced. Found a pair of glasses, earrings or a hat that you like the look of online? Kinect will be able to make it look as though you’re actually wearing said accessory. Move your head this way and that and the item will cling to your onscreen self. It’ll be the ultimate online shopping aid for the indecisive.
2. Enhanced facial recognition
The current iteration of Kinect for Xbox 360 has facial recognition that allows you to sign into your Xbox LIVE account simply by presenting your visage to the camera. Its success rate is sketchy at the moment, but again, at closer range and with much more processing force behind it, it’ll be quicker and far more accurate.
That’s to say nothing of 3D, which is almost definitely going to be fixture in the next Kinect’s camera arsenal. Android Ice Cream Sandwich’s Face Unlock feature is notoriously sluggish and can be fooled with a simple photo of yourself. Having a 3D map of faces to refer to will allow the desktop Kinect to offer a fairly infallible system.
When we get to that stage, you can kiss passwords goodbye. Logging into your accounts is just the start at that stage: you could tether your bank details to your face, allowing for near instant online purchases. Dangerous.
3. Advanced avatar creation
Whether you’re locked deep into World of Warcraft, hanging out in a Second Life or trying to add yourself into the England squad on FIFA 12, making a game character look anything like you today is laborious and almost always ineffectual.
A future where Kinect with next-gen facial mapping knows your head better than you do would put an end to that game of trying to decide which of the 15 stock chins fits best. Simply pull a face and have it perfectly mapped onto your character in an instant. Unless of course, you want to look like a troll?
4. Faster browsing with eye-tracking
Where the next couple of years in Microsoft Kinect’s life gets really interesting is in the more subtle details of your movement. At the moment Xbox Kinect works by mapping your body as a stick-like skeleton. It’s limited to a basic count of your joints, to the point where it doesnt even register fingers.
If you shrink the distance between you and the sensor – as with a home computer or laptop – and up the hardware specs, what started as a device that knows where your head is will end up knowing exactly which point on the screen your beady eyeballs are looking at. You’ll end up with a Kinect-powered browser that, in the second or so before you actually click a link, begins loading a it in the background upon seeing you focus your eyes on it.
5. Dynamically chosen related content
Similarly, if the future lies with registering the tiniest of your movements, then it’ll be able to break your poker face to determine what you like and don’t like. Imagine watching a video on YouTube and being presented with related videos that veer one way or another depending on which parts of the video made your pupils dilate with excitement.
These kind of Kinect hacks obviously opens up a Pandora’s shipping crate of possibilities for marketing types, who’ll be able to fill a webpage with adverts based not only on your eye movement, but also your expressions, gasps, tuts, and other base reactions.
We’re a few years away from seeing some of these more futurological predictions come to pass, but assuming Microsoft continues to push the Kinect technology into the hands of anyone who wants it, then I can see it truly revolutionising the computer experience.
We’ve all heard people talk about the ‘Minority Report’ future of interfaces between man and machine, but we could be on the verge of leaping way past that much quicker than we’d previously thought, all thanks to Microsoft and its would-be competitor to the Wii.
Do you agree, or have any future Kinect visions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.