How Kinect Works

Today’s launch of Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360 could change the gaming landscape completely. Whereas Nintendo Wii brought the idea of effective motion detection and control to the mainstream gaming industry, Microsoft is ready to take the idea a big step forward. As we all anxiously await the launch event today, Wired has an interesting piece on how Microsoft is improving on motion detection technology to deliver the same level of accuracy and reliability that a regular handheld controller offers, if not more.

Kinect relies on depth mapping to determine an object’s location in a field. Much like sonar, the unit measures the time it takes for light to bounce of the object and return to the source. It creates a 3D visualization of the object this way. This method offers greater reliability than older techniques, which relied on color and texture differences to determine the location and nature of an object. In that model, the results can be thrown off by low contrast situations, like wearing a shirt the same color as the wall behind you. Depth mapping also doesn’t rely on external light sources to measure anything. Kinect will ostensibly work in a pitch black room, because it is generating its own “light pings.”

Once the device has data to process, the processor crunches the data to make it work. It differentiates between faces, limbs, and other environmental aspects of the field, as well as recognize people and remembers who they are when they step back in the field.

The audio capabilities on Kinect are also worth mention. It responds to audio commands, but it doesn’t use the familiar noise-cancelling/isolation technologies employed in mobile smartphone devices. In order to accommodate voice control throughout the field cone, Kinect manages to filter out sound while using a wide field microphone that picks up and filters all the noise in the room.

Microsoft and PrimeSense have teamed up to try and revolutionize the gaming industry in a way the Wii only hoped to ultimately accomplish. It may carry a hefty price tag for a peripheral ($150 in the US), but it’s definitely packing the technology deserving of the price. The tech is there, but will Microsoft reach the predicted 5 million units sold from now until Christmas? The tech won’t be the only factor in the equation. The quality of the games that Kinect will work with will likely be the deciding factor in all of this. Wii suffered early on due to this issue, and as the quality of the software improved, sales skyrocketed. Only time (and game reviewers) will tell if Microsoft learned this important lesson from Nintendo.

Image Credit: Wired

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