You can't make any money off it (yet), but Microsoft's seeking to enlist an army of developers to help them take Kinect out of the games room and into the real world.
It's fair to say that Kinect has been a bit of a fairy tale success story for Microsoft. Released less than a year ago, sales of the Xbox 360 gaming accessory have been record-breaking, neatly complementing persistent demand for the venerable console itself. Admirable stats, especially given Microsoft's software heritage and mixed track record when it comes to now-and-then hardware forays.
But perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Kinect story isn't its achievements inside the gaming market -- but its theoretical potential outside of it. In June Microsoft released the official Kinect for Windows SDK. Still in beta, the toolkit is aimed at promoting Kinect application development within academic research and “enthusiast communities”, giving programmers access to the device's raw sensor streams (depth, colour and audio sensors) and skeletal tracking, and comes complete with substantial technical documentation and support.
All up, it's a big push by Microsoft, and one intended to excite the dev community and get them thinking about the potentially limitless practical applications for gesture-driven technology outside of the living room. A considerable incentive for interested developers is the low cost of entry (the Kinect RRP is officially $199 in Australia but it's often available at a discount from retailers) and of course the SDK itself is free.
The disincentive? The SDK is hamstrung by non-commercial limitations currently attached to the toolkit (ie. you can't sell your apps or roll them out in any way commercially). Microsoft has announced that a commercial package is on its way, but hasn't yet indicated a timeframe for this.
Still, this restriction isn't dampening keen-to-skill-up developer enthusiasm for the new platform at this year's Tech.Ed, and the proof-in-concept applications revealed thus far (relentlessly promoted by Microsoft) indeed demonstrate Minority Report-esque innovations worth getting excited about -- ranging from consumer-facing front ends, such as architectural blueprints and customised car detailing that you can essentially interact with by gesture, through to industry-specific innovations, including a project for abbatoirs that effectively reduces the cost of animal-leanness testing sensors by one-hundred fold.
It's too early to tell when we'll actually be seeing the fruits of these efforts out in the world -- the SDK's not yet three months old, and certainly until the commercial package hits the servers, Kinect for Windows is effectively a dev-only prospect. But given the commercial success Microsoft has enjoyed with Kinect gaming thus far (and the revenue brought in as a result), it's clear Microsoft's hoping to furnish another kind of app revolution -- and it'll be a full-bodied experience this time.
The writer travelled to Tech.Ed as a guest of Microsoft Australia.