Future Business Apps Could Use Kinect UI

Natural user interfaces derived from Kinect will boost productivity, says Microsoft Research

Natural user interfaces based on gestures could come to business applications, acording to Microsoft, which has launched a software development kit (SDK) for the Kinect.

The Kinect SDK, which legitimises the hacks which have been executed on Microsoft’s games console interface since its launch, was shown at Microsoft”s MIX 11 event in Las Vegas, but simultaneously took centre stage as part of a new research thrust, at Microsoft Research’s European Software Summit in Paris.

“Gamifying” business apps

So called “natural user interfaces” based on gesture are just one of many innovations coming into business IT from the games industry, said Andrew Herbert, chairman of Microsoft Research EMEA: “Computer games, to be successful, have had to design immersive and intuitive experiences to make them successful and make them something people want to stay with.”

In fact, the input from games is really about updating the user interface into something “aligned with the physics of the world in which we operate,” said Herbert.

Research firm Gartner has said that more than half of firms will have “gamified” their processes by 2014, though this could include many different technologies.

Delegates in Paris saw a virtual telescope application in which the viewer can navigate through space using hand gestures. A more practical application, developed in Cambridge UK, allows doctors to navigate through medical scans and 3D images in the sterile atmosphere of an operating theature, without introducing a dirt-collecting keyboard.

“We have been very pleasantly surprised – in fact we have been taken aback – by the level of interest from the hobbyist and maker community,” said Herbert.”We have been really pleased that we have been able to make something available.”

Microsoft’s Cambridge research facility has been involved in natural user interfaces and the Kinect for some time, said Herbert. “Now we want to really explore what the place of gesture input might be, what is naturally driven by gesture.”

He hopes that natural interfaces can help cross the digital divide and “make technology more approachable for a broader population.”

Research feeds into Kinect UI

The Microsoft Research involvement started with a lot of work on motion tracking and avatars, which turned out to be too complex, said Herbert, so Kinect ended up going with a simpler range finder mapping its results onto a 3D model of the human skeleton.

“Motion tracking uses a lot of computing power,” said Herbert,”and in a console most of that has to go on graphics.”

Nevertheless, Microsoft Research was able to provide object recognition technology which can help resolve issues where the Kinect range finder gets lost.