Microsoft building Kinect device for Windows PCs

The new hardware will be specially designed for applications that use the Kinect sensors with PCs, Microsoft said

Microsoft will build a Kinect device specifically for use with PCs, as the company prepares to launch a program to support commercial products developed for Kinect and Windows.

Kinect is the motion and voice technology that Microsoft first introduced as an add-on to the Xbox. Gamers with Kinect play games by moving their bodies, rather than pushing buttons on a controller.

In a recent video, Microsoft showed some possible applications for Kinect with Windows, including people playing musical instruments by moving their hands in the air; a surgeon flipping through X-ray images without touching the screen; a teacher controlling a display of the night sky by moving his arms; and a technician remotely controlling a robot that defuses a bomb.

Earlier this year, Microsoft released a software development kit to let developers build applications on Windows that make use of the Kinect sensor. The Kinect device Microsoft will build for PCs has a few adjustments that should make it better suited for use with computers.

"Of particular interest to developers will be the new firmware which enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 centimeters in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 centimeters," Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, wrote in a blog post.

This "near mode" will be more suitable for someone sitting at a computer, as opposed to standing in front of a TV. It's been one of the most requested features from developers already working on products, Eisler said. The new hardware will also have a shorter USB cable for connecting to computers.

When Microsoft first released the SDK for Kinect for Windows, it limited developers to non-commercial use only, saying it would release a commercial package in the future. It recently promised to launch that program early next year.

Some developers may be worried about how much to invest in their products without knowing more about the commercial program. Eisler wrote that users have said they want assurance of support and continued innovation from Microsoft. He hinted that the commercial program will give licensed customers access to ongoing updates in speech and human tracking technology as well as full support for Kinect hardware for Windows.

Microsoft recently announced an incubator program for getting startups with Kinect ideas off the ground. A Microsoft spokesperson said that Kinect for Windows will be commercially available prior to the incubation phase of Kinect Accelerator. Microsoft is accepting applications through Jan. 25 and the program will start 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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