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Microsoft's Kinect: Learning Medicine, Home Auto & Sign Language

By Tony Ibrahim | Friday | 09/12/2011

Microsoft wants to equip its Kinect motion camera with the ability to learn. To do that it has recruited a venture that was started in a Bondi flat and has put up $200,000, hoping the investment will pay off in home automation, the medical industry and the enterprise world.

Microsoft believes the success of its Kinect motion camera could see it being the essential ingredient in controlling home automation, monitoring hospital patients, converting sign-language into speech and even content creating and editing through body movements.

Read: Microsoft's Xbox Hitting Classrooms, Offices and Hospitals

The Kinect motion controller debuted last year on the Xbox console and was later adapted to the PC. It recognises motion, body movements and voice commands, providing a unique and immersive form of gameplay. Its slogan reads "you are the controller."

By March the motion controller had sold 10 million units worldwide, earning it a spot in the Guinness World Records as the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history.

A few days ago Microsoft released an update to the Xbox360 console which enabled the Kinect to recognise voice prompts, such as play, pause and rewind, when watching DVDs. Furthermore, there was news that Microsoft was making a play with TV leviathan Sony by incorporating the Kinect sensor into upcoming TVs.

Although it still holds great potential in the home entertainment sphere, Microsoft wants to exploit its potential in other fields, so much so that they hope it will be able to learn entirely new gestures, as opposed to recognising preconfigured ones: they're after endowing the Kinect with artificial intelligence.

In order to make it a reality the company has sponsored a competition on Kaggle, the Australian made website that unites the best world's scientists to solve some of the most difficult problems.

First prize is $10,000, but Microsoft is staking $200,000 on the most promising solution.

Kaggle's founder, Anthony Goldbloom, believes the Kinect is limited by its inability to accurately recognise subtle movements.

"The idea is to extend the Kinect's potential uses from gaming to things like interpreting lip-reading and sign language, as well as determining whether a hospital patient has suddenly taken a bad turn," Goldbloom said.

The Kaggle competition will encourage the development of more precise algorithms that are more capable of finer distinctions.

Read: Healthy Gaming: Xbox Kinect Breaks Into Medical Field

Kaggle's president and chief scientist, Jeremy Howard, believes the Kinect could harbour the potential for future technology, with computers hosting interfaces similar to the ones depicted in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.

"The methods developed here are likely to further the state of the art not only in gesture recognition, but also in the systems used to power self-driving cars, autonomous robots and unmanned aircraft (UAVs)," said Howard.

"A user could teach the Kinect to recognise the sign language dialect used in their region. Internet communities could work together to develop new computer interfaces based entirely on gestures - for instance, a system could be developed for editing movies using hand signals; or a Kinect could be used to control a TV by using gestures to change channel."

The Kinect was intended to be a motion controller that usurps the competitive advantages of Nintendo's Wii and Sony's Move remote. Instead, it has become the standard for future technologies in many industries.

Read: Microsoft's Kinect VS Apple's Siri In TV Market

Its success will see Microsoft helm the technology against Apple's Siri, which is believed to move from smartphones onto TVs. However, if its voice recognition technology is fine tuned, then its motion capabilities and market prominence could give Microsoft the leg up on Apple, while changing the way we interact with everyday technologies.

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