October 31, 2011 7:02 am

Microsoft eyes broader use of game controller

A year after a record-breaking launch with the Xbox 360 console, Microsoft is readying its Kinect game controller for broader use in the business world.

Hundreds of commercial applications are under development for the $150 motion-sensing camera, ranging from aiding surgeons in operating theatres to selling cars. Microsoft announced official support for them on Monday with a software development kit (SDK).

Kinect gave a big boost to Microsoft and the Xbox with its launch on November 4 last year. About 8m were sold – many of them bundled with the games console – in Kinect’s first 60 days on sale, making it the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history.

But Kinect was also a big hit with academic institutions and robotics researchers – its affordable motion-sensing camera, depth sensors and microphone for voice recognition led to it being “hacked” for other uses, such as controlling a robot vacuum cleaner with a wave of the hand or helping a model helicopter fly safely, through awareness of its surroundings.

Dennis Durkin, Xbox chief financial officer, said the key to interest from engineers and business had been bringing down the price of Kinect from $30,000-$40,000 when it was under development two years ago to $150, due to mass production.

“Once you bring down that price point, all of a sudden it opens up a bunch of new developer opportunities,” he said.

As well as academic interest, Microsoft has been working on a pilot programme with more than 200 companies for use of the Kinect across 25 industries, from healthcare to education, advertising and the automotive industry.

“It’s likely that many ‘killer apps’ will be developed within their respective fields,” said Mr Durkin.

Toyota has developed a virtual showroom that allows cars to be explored by gestures, while the Spanish technology group Tedesys has linked Kinect to a PC and monitor to allow surgeons to wave their way through patient records on screen during operations.

Microsoft said it would sell a commercial version of a Kinect for Windows SDK to businesses from early in 2012.

Alex Kipman, director of incubation for Xbox, said the sensors would continue to be improved and developers would become more skilled in adapting the device.

“I can guarantee you that 12 months from now, educational, academic and commercial applications will look nothing like what they are today,” he said.

Sales of Kinect for the Xbox have slowed this year. Microsoft has not updated numbers since it announced a 10m milestone in March.

But analysts expect a big push in the holiday season, with more than 70 Kinect-enabled games available and new functionality added, such as the ability to search content and access a wider offering of media, including live television on the Xbox.

“The media and learning applications for this are huge,” said Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities video game analyst, citing new interactive products such as a Kinect-enabled version of the children’s programme Sesame Street.

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