Microsoft is prepping new Kinect hardware especially designed for Windows, as the company seeks to expand the utility of the hands-free game controller beyond the Xbox 360.
According to a Nov. 22 posting on the Kinect for Windows blog, the hardware will elaborate on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device and appear sometime in 2012. Microsoft is launching its Kinect for Windows commercial program early next year. Some 200 companies are already involved in a global pilot program to explore Kinect's commercial ramifications.
The hardware alterations necessary for a Windows-optimized Kinect include shortening the USB cable "to ensure reliability across a broad range of computers," Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, wrote in the blog posting. That's along with the addition of "a small dongle to improve coexistence with other USB peripherals." New firmware will optimize the camera to accurately focus on objects at ranges up to 50 centimeters.
"'Near mode' will enable a whole new class of 'close up' applications, beyond the living room scenarios for Kinect for Xbox 360," he added. "This is one of the most requested features from the many developers and companies participating in our Kinect for Windows pilot program."
Microsoft had originally designed the Kinect as a way to play Xbox 360 games via gesture and the spoken word, targeting those casual gamers who'd made the Nintendo Wii and its unconventional, gesture-centric controllers such an enormous hit. Within weeks of Kinect's release in November 2010, however, tech pros found a way to hack the device's 3D camera. Soon videos began to appear on YouTube demonstrating how the next-generation hardware could be used to do everything from controlling robots to painting 3D images.
After an initial period of public disapproval, Microsoft rushed to embrace the Kinect hacking, claiming that it had deliberately left the device open to modification. Then the company started highlighting its intention to offer Kinect technology to academic institutions, with an eye toward boosting the latter's research. From there, it was yet another short hop to businesses.
With millions of Kinect units selling to gamers, Microsoft clearly sees-or at least, ardently hopes-the technology appealing to productivity-minded users, as well.