Microsoft has made the version 1.0 of its Kinect for Windows software development kit and runtime available for download.
"Looking towards the future, we are planning on releasing updates to our SDK and runtime 2-3 times per year," Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, wrote in a Jan. 31 posting on the Kinect for Windows Blog. "We are continuing to invest in programs like our Testing and Adoption Program and the Kinect Accelerator, and will work to create new programs in the future."
Microsoft's Kinect team has tweaked the SDK and runtime since the Beta 2 released in late 2011. Improvements include support for up to four Kinect sensors plugged into the same PC, an ability to see objects as close as 40 cm from the front of the Kinect device, a variety of API updates and enhancements, and the latest Microsoft Speech components.
Microsoft had originally designed the Kinect controller as a way to play Xbox 360 games via gesture and spoken words, in the process targeting those same casual gamers who made the Nintendo Wii-and its own unconventional controllers-such an enormous success. Within weeks of the device's November 2010 release, it had sold millions of units.
Perhaps inevitably, tech pros soon found a way to hack the Kinect's 3D camera, which translates the movements of a user's body to a digital avatar. Videos soon began to appear on YouTube, demonstrating what the next-generation hardware could do aside from virtual fencing and dancing: tethering Kinect's motion controls to a robot, in one example.
Microsoft did not approve at first. "Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products," a company spokesperson told CNET Nov. 4, 2010. "Microsoft will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product-safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant."
But the company then executed an abrupt about-face. In a Nov. 19, 2010, interview with NPR, Alex Kipman, Microsoft's director of incubation for Xbox, insisted that Kinect had not been hacked, and that the company had deliberately left the device open to modification. "What has happened is someone wrote an open-source driver for PCs that essentially opens the USB connection, which we didn't protect by design, and reads the input from the sensor," he told the radio show.
From that point on, Microsoft highlighted its apparent intention to offer Kinect's technology to academic institutions and businesses. Near the end of 2011, it announced a Kinect for Windows commercial program for early in 2012, designed (in the words of a company press release) as a way to give "global businesses the tools they need to develop applications on Kinect that could take their businesses and industries in new directions." Some 200 businesses, including 25 companies in the Fortune 500, have apparently been involved in a global pilot program designed to explore the technology's commercial ramifications.