Microsoft is adapting its Xbox 360 based Kinect motion controller camera to be used for more than just console gaming. A new post on the Microsoft Research site shows that the Kinect device is part of a new project that Microsoft is calling the "HoloDesk". The name suggests something similar to Star Trek: The Next Generation's HoloDeck. Indeed, the HoloDesk is about as close as you can get to creating real, interactive 3D environments with today's technology.
The HoloDesk uses a screen that sits above a flat surface. In between the screen and the bottom is a beam splitter which helps to create the 3D effect when you view the objects through the beam splitter's surface. The Kinect camera is used for both face tracking of the person using the HoloDesk along with the hands. In short, the combination of all these elements as well as others allows the HoloDesk user to appear to be touching and moving the 3D objects on the screen.
The video below shows off the HoloDesk's various uses. While it certainly can be used to create cool 3D games (imagine the alien chess game in Star Wars: A New Hope come to live) it could also be used for more practical applications . One possible use is being able to make and then operate virtual prototypes of hardware devices to see if they will work before an expensive real world hardware prototype is built. It could also be used for physics simulations and even for teleconferencing.