Microsoft to help 10 Kinect startups

However, the company has yet to allow for the commercial sale of products based on Kinect for Windows

Microsoft on Friday announced a program designed to help 10 developers or startups launch businesses around products for Kinect, the controller that senses motion and voice.

Developers with Kinect applications for the Xbox or Windows are invited to apply to the Kinect Accelerator program, even though Microsoft does not yet allow the sale of products based on Kinect for Windows.

The program is being supported by TechStars, the organization that mentors technology startups and offers them seed funding from a group of venture capital investors.

The 10 people or startups accepted into the Kinect Accelerator program will spend three months in Seattle working out of the Kinect Accelerator office, where they will receive technical training and support and be mentored by entrepreneurs, investors and Microsoft executives. They will also get US$20,000, an Xbox development kit and the Windows Kinect SDK (software development kit). At the end of the program, the companies will present their business ideas to angel investors, venture capitalists and the media, and potentially receive additional funding.

Companies accepted into the program must give up a 6 percent equity stake in their business to TechStars in common stock.

Any developer or company working on a Kinect-enabled application for Windows or Xbox that can be a commercial product is eligible to apply. Businesses at any stage of development are invited to apply, including those that simply have an idea.

Microsoft initially was resistant to allowing external developers to build on its Kinect sensor, which was launched as an add-on to the Xbox and lets users play games by moving their bodies or using voice commands rather than using a controller. But it quickly became clear that hackers and developers were keen to get creative with the Kinect.

In June, Microsoft released an SDK for people interested in building Windows apps for the Kinect. However, the SDK is available only for noncommercial use. At the time, Microsoft said it planned to release a commercial package in the future, but it hasn't yet.

Microsoft did not reply to a request for comment about how participants in the Kinect Accelerator program might move forward without permission to build commercial products or knowledge of what Microsoft's terms for creating Kinect products might be.

In a video posted on the TechStars blog, Microsoft shows off some "unexpected" potential uses for Kinect, including people playing instruments without the instrument; a doctor in an operating room flipping through X-ray images without having to touch anything; a teacher controlling a display of the night sky by waving his arms; and a technician remotely controlling a robot that defuses a bomb.

At the CTIA conference last month, one small company showed off a Kinect application that would let people bank from home by waving their arms in front of their TVs.

People can apply to the program through Jan. 25. The three-month program starts in March.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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