Exploring the business prospects of Kinect
Retail and advertising: Kinect is all about user experience and can help manufacturers and retailers provide a superior product experience to potential customers. We at Infosys have been working on a Kinect based retail store product catalogue solution that provides an intuitive gesture interface to navigate through product categories and relevant product details. We are sure that this will excite retail shoppers, while helping them select the right product. Another area that is fast emerging (which no one seems to have got completely right yet) is virtual dressing rooms where instead of having to physically try on clothes, customers can view on a digital screen a simulation of how those clothes will look on them, including size and fit. Fitnect is one such example (http://www.fitnect.com/). Kinect can detect people and their movements and hence surveillance of shoppers movements to get insights into their behavior. E.g. Shopperception utilizes Kinect (http://shopperception.com/). Gesture controlled TVs are expected to become mainstream soon, possibly with Kinect as the remote control replacement. This scenario can be extended to provide interactive advertisements at public places like malls and metro stations.
Healthcare: There are several applications in health care out of which the most notable are surgical assistance, patient rehabilitation and elderly care. During surgery, surgeons at times need to access medical images such as CT scans. At present they need to either sanitize their hands each time they touch the keyboard or have an assistant for this job. Having a gesture controlled interface eliminates this need completely and speeds up the operation (http://thenextweb.com/microsoft/2011/03/25/kinect-for-surgery-its-more-likely-and-safer-than-you-think/). Kinect provides skeletal tracking and hence opens up the possibility of assisting patients undergoing physiotherapy. It can help guide patients with the right movements to be made and correct any mistakes they may be making. (http://www.metro.co.uk/tech/880753-microsoft-kinect-used-in-rehabilitation-of-stroke-patients). It also has applications in elderly care. (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2011/dec11/12-19KinectEffect.mspx?rss_fdn=Custom).
Robotics: There are two ways of looking at this: Kinect as the robot controller or as a Kinect mounted robot to provide its eyes and ears. Infosys is carrying out research on using Kinect for motion control of robots in a more natural way with gestures using Kinect and we are quite excited with the results. Gesture controlled robots using Kinect can be used for industrial or logistics applications. Kinect when mounted on a robot opens up the possibility of providing 3D vision and hence for example more effective domestic helper robots. The University of Warwick has been working on a Kinect mounted robot to locate earthquake survivors (http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/engineers-use-xbox-kinect-find-earthquake-survivors). Further, Kinect inherently recognizes people, so it can be used to help make robots safer by avoiding collisions.
Business productivity: Gesture driven navigation can help make presentations interesting. This is especially the case for presentations that are heavy on visual data. Apart from flipping through slides, we can have zooming in and out of charts, carousel views and exploding 3D models. This may create the need for presentation tools that are more powerful than PowerPoint; going ahead 3D presentations might become the norm. Another application is high quality virtual meetings. MIT has done some interesting work here (http://kinectedconference.media.mit.edu/). In today's video conferences, if a speaker is walking around a podium or room the camera needs to be rotated by means of a remote. In this case, Kinect can inherently track the person and some mechanism to rotate the device (beyond auto-tilt) can be provided to ensure that the speaker is always within the frame.
Security: Kinect can not only detect the presence of a person, but also a person's movements by means of skeletal tracking, which can be used to detect intruders and suspicious people. The Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs was looking at Kinect security applications at border crossings as the depth camera facilitates detection of the number of passengers in a car and other vehicles (http://www.mspublicsafetysymposium.com/media/3573/liu_032411_1310.pdf).
Training: Kinect has potential applications for training humans where specific movements need to be performed. It can be used in manufacturing industries to train workers and make them more efficient. A good example in healthcare training is performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) (http://channel9.msdn.com/coding4fun/kinect/Using-the-Kinect-to-teach-CPR).
Most business applications of Kinect at this point are in the R&D stage and the full potential of this device is still to be realized. Further, some of these applications require advances in software algorithms. The future appears quite promising and is opening up new businesses opportunities. Some of these applications will inevitably become mainstream going ahead. Early movers will have a definite advantage.