Microsoft Research unleashed a Kinect for Windows software development kit beta Thursday that will enable academics and gaming enthusiasts to explore new ideas and create rich PC software applications that include human motion tracking, voice recognition, and depth sensing. The goal of the SDK is to move one step closer to realizing the software giant's long-term vision for how people in the future will be able to interact with technology more naturally and intuitively.
This is a really fun project and one that can generate tons of money, goodwill and innovation that Microsoft can lay claim to inspiring, noted Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC.
"It was great for Microsoft to pivot and open this technology up for developers," Hilwa said. "It is also very important in that audiovisual body gestures and sounds may be to television screens what touch was for telephone screens."
Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect controllers have already become popular accessories among gaming enthusiasts. More than 10 million units were sold between the product's commercial launch last November and March. Now the company is moving the technology into the Windows PC environment on an experimental basis.
The free SDK should help further analysts' predictions about the transformation already under way where the traditional mouse/keyboard paradigm for PC interaction is replaced by a new model that fully integrates the user's physical movements and speech. Hilwa thinks the SDK will pay dividends in many ways, including generating revenue in the TV-app wars that are likely coming soon.
"It is up to Microsoft to move quickly and leverage its presence with Xbox today -- [as well as] new and existing assets like Skype and Zune -- into this market," Hilwa said. "Clearly bringing developers into the realm is what will allow the platform to take off."
However, a key question is how Microsoft might leverage its Kinect technology to make its next-generation Windows 8 operating system truly revolutionary. This may be one of the reasons why Microsoft is releasing a noncommercial Kinect SDK to academics and enthusiasts for now -- even as the software giant applies finishing touches to the architecture for Windows 8.
Under the Hood
The Kinect SDK beta incorporates audio-processing capabilities, such as sophisticated acoustic noise suppression and echo cancellation. The SDK also includes a beam formation that will enable Kinect to identify the current sound source. Additionally, the SDK includes a Windows speech-recognition API.
Other SDK elements include device drivers, rich APIs for raw sensor streams and natural user interfaces, together with installation documents and other resource materials. The goal is to provide a complete set of Kinect capabilities to developers capable of building apps in Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 based on the C++, C# or Visual Basic programming languages.
"The SDK includes not only drivers, but also APIs, device interfaces, installer documents and resource materials," noted Microsoft blogger Steve Clayton. "It's another exciting milestone for a technology that has captured the imagination of millions and has become the fastest-selling computer electronics device of all time."