If you think the Kinect is just a great game-playing device, you're not thinking outside the box.
Officially, as of this moment, the $150-or-less sensor remains tethered to the Xbox 360. Unofficially, a sufficiently talented and motivated individual can hook a Kinect to just about anything that pumps electrons. With open source drivers and hook-up kits, an avid fan base, and a throng of chortling developers in tow, the Kinect is too good to stay in Xbox land. I'm convinced it'll make big corporate inroads in the next year. Here's why:
The Kinect has a depth-sensitive camera, a three-axis accelerometer, four microphones, and a motor pack that can make the sensor unit move up and down. The camera produces two video data streams, one a standard low-definition color stream and the other a data stream that describes depth by bouncing infrared beams across the room. All of the data travels up and down a single, simple USB cable.
As Neil McAllister describes in his Developer World blog, electronic enthusiast company Adafruit Industries sponsored a driver competition last November. Less than a week later, Hector Martin claimed the prize with a full open source set of drivers that combines the color stream with the depth stream, and produces amazing 3D tracking images, including the ability to create wire frame skeletal mapping.
At first, Microsoft started making grumbling noises about protecting its patents. Then somebody in Redmond hid the stupid pills. By the time CES rolled around two weeks ago, Steve Ballmer stated unequivocally that Kinect will tie in with Windows at some point: "We'll support that in a formal way." Which is just as well because the, er, informal support is starting to look like the fans at a Jets game -- and act like them, too.
"We certainly started out with Xbox, very focused on gaming," SteveB said to the BBC. "We're trying to do two major things. We're trying to move beyond gaming and include the world of socialization, TV, movies, music. And we're trying to make the whole experience accessible to everybody in the family, not just the traditional gamer."
And, golly, the idea of putting Kinects out in the corporate world just never really dawned on him, you know?