Kinect in Your Next Laptop

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It was a vision of a science fiction future: you sit down with your laptop at a coffee shop, you open the lid of the computer and a green light above the screen comes on, and perhaps you hear the faint sound of a whirling servo. You’ve barely raised the mug to your lips when the system displays a welcome message and logs you in without any keyboard input. Setting the mug down, you make am upwards gesture and swirl with one hand and your applications open.

It’s not that far off, as rumor would have it. There have been prototypes seen of Windows 8 laptops made by Asus that had a built-in Kinect sensor along the top of the screen. You could do all that was described above and more with such bundled technology. What could some of the practical applications of this technology be?

First, it opens up a world of usability and functionality for the differently abled to use their devices. Motion control would be a huge boost where typing on a keyboard or manipulating a tiny trackpad could be an insurmountable task. Voice activation using Kinect would be a huge boon as well, as for any who’ve used Microsoft’s Xbox with Kinect know, it’s quite acceptable and is improving with each generation.

From the security perspective, visual recognition could add an extra layer of protection by using gestures for unlocking a workstation, or perhaps a combination of facial recognition with a passphrase or gesture. If your computer recognizes you as soon as you sit in front of it, imitating you or your mannerisms will become doubly difficult, ratcheting up useful security methods exponentially.

Gaming will take a whole new turn into awesomeness with immersive experiences that are now popular on the Xbox with Kinect. While you probably shouldn’t expect to play full-court tennis or wield a lightsaber standing in front of your laptop, a world of options exist for gesture-based controls.

Microsoft Kinect has been in the news a lot these past weeks, from their official announcement of Kinect for Windows to people noting Microsoft Surface and Kinect appear to be on a collision course. It’s obvious that the plan is to push Kinect from just existing in the living room to being everywhere.  This includes non-gaming applications.  Proxemics will be an area of exploration for the technology.  Like the shopping mall scene in Minority Report, such technology will allow for custom and targeted interfaces for users.   Combined with possible cloud computing systems for object recognition, it is conceivable that having computer systems recognize individuals is entirely achievable.

What could come after laptops with Kinect technology built-in? An entire house or business wired to a Kinect-like device is a possibility in our lifetime.  Until that time, though, we’ll be able to feed ourselves with the news that our laptops may get a whole lot more useful soon. Microsoft will most likely license Kinect technology to third-party hardware manufacturers for their own unique uses and implementations like they currently do with Windows. From there, developers will have a chance to integrate the tech into various mobile devices and platforms. The possibilities are potentially endless.

In the video: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announces that Siemens, Citi, Boeing, American Express, Unilever, United Health Group, Mattel and Toyota are just some of the companies Microsoft have been working with to bring their Kinect ideas to life in revolutionary new ways.