Makers and tinkerers are about to have access to the next generation of affordable eyes for computers as Microsoft brings its second-generation Kinect camera to Windows.
The company announced today that it started shipping Kinect v2 today to people who preordered the motion-tracking device. This version of the Kinect is similar to the 3D motion-tracking camera that comes bundled with the $500 Xbox One console. Microsoft started pre-selling Kinect for Windows 2.0 a few weeks ago for $200, and now developers can start using it to gather visual data for human-computer-interface programs or for autonomous robots. The original Kinect for Windows, which was identical to the Xbox 360 version, provided PC developers with an inexpensive way to map 3D real-world environments, and Kinect v2 — with its high-definition cameras and better motion tracking — could catch on with the same crowd.
Microsoft also released a preview of the Kinect for Windows SDK 2.0, which adds a number of new features for the second-generation 3D camera. With SDK 2.0, developers can now track 25 skeletal joins as well as thumbs, and the software is capable of advanced face-tracking.
While the Kinect for Windows SDK 2.0 is still in a preview state, developers can start building products now. When the final SDK launches later this year, Microsoft will give people the option to publish their software to the Windows Store. The development kit will remain free, and Microsoft will ask for no fees for those who release commercial products.
Kinect v2 originally debuted bundled with the Xbox One when the console launched in November. For $500, customers got the system and the Kinect, which enables you to control your TV with voice or gestures. In June, Microsoft introduced a new $400 Xbox One package that no longer includes the Kinect. This should help Microsoft’s Xbox One keep up with the brisk sales of Sony’s PlayStation 4.
You may think of Kinect as a gaming device, as that’s how Microsoft has positioned and marketed it for Xbox One. That’s not really how it works on PC. Builders primarily used Kinect for Windows for interesting robotic experiments and medical devices. For example, the University of California at Berkeley built an autonomous quadrocopter robot that could sense and avoid obstacles using the Kinect camera. Check it out:
Microsoft is likely expecting some developers to want to release gaming software, which is why it is providing the SDK at no cost. We’ll see if that happens, as few studios are even making games for the Kinect on Xbox One.
While the Kinect for Windows is capable of some cool features, it’s unlikely that it will catch on with a mainstream audience. Microsoft is probably instead hoping to establish a community of PC developers creating next-gen software for robotics, enterprise, and hospitals. That might help position Windows as the go-to solution for emerging use cases as technology disrupts more and more of our daily lives.