Kinect Update Lets Users Zoom and Grab in Midair
As long as your device has a touch screen, you’re just about guaranteed to have pinch-to-zoom functionality. However, a new software update for Kinect for Windows will make it so that you don’t need a screen at all. Users of Microsoft’s body-tracking peripheral will now be able to pinch and grab their way through applications as the system learns to interpret subtle hand gestures.
A Microsoft video demonstrates the Kinect’s new functionality. Two cursors follow a tester’s hands, allowing him to “grab” parts of a map and scroll across the landscape. With a simple pinch-and-zoom, he zeroes in on a particular building in a crowded city, even rotating the map as he goes.
The Kinect has always sported a fairly sophisticated body scanner, capable of tracking motion in the arms, legs and head. However, the device has concerned itself traditionally with wide, sweeping motions or particular hand shapes (such as holding a lightsaber). The ability to recognize a hand grasping or releasing an object is a large step forward for Microsoft’s motion-control technology.
The Kinect started life as an Xbox 360 peripheral, letting gamers use their own bodies to control the action on-screen. While this proved to be a natural fit for sports games such as volleyball or soccer, getting core gamers and developers to embrace motion controls for titles like "Call of Duty" has been much more difficult.
To be sure, Kinect is an evolving platform, but it has to be. The market for motion controllers is still nascent, but already populated with a number of possible contenders for the top spot. The Leap system, for example, is another motion-control input for PCs. Like the updated Kinect, the Leap recognizes pinches and grabs, but can also track the motion of individual fingers for tasks such as molding virtual clay. The device will go on sale this May, both via the company’s website and Best Buy as a retail exclusive.
Extreme Motion has gone one step further by producing motion-tracking software that will function on any PC equipped with a standard webcam. By using the webcam to track a user’s body, the software can accommodate any motion-controlled games and recognize both static poses and dynamic swiping motions. The range of gestures is less sophisticated than the Kinect and the Leap, but the barrier for entry is likewise much lower. [See also: 10 Hottest Games for 2013]
Perhaps the most ambitious motion controller on the horizon is the MYO armband. While it only tracks the motions of one body part — a forearm — it tracks it in exquisite detail. In addition to using motions such as wrist twists, snaps, grabs and pinches, the MYO can track the individual movement of tendons in an arm. This allows exceptionally fine control over everything from adjusting sound levels across multiple music tracks, to flying model aircraft to shooting down enemies in "Mass Effect."
Kinect for Windows and its Xbox 360 counterpart will continue to evolve, but the next big Kinect announcement should accompany the reveal of Microsoft’s latest Xbox console, expected at the E3 gaming expo in June 2013. (For reference, Sony debuted its new PlayStation 4 console in February.) The logical progression would be tracking of individual fingers, but some of Microsoft’s competitors have set the bar pretty high. These motion-tracking peripherals have a number of practical applications, but whether they’re precise enough to replace a traditional game controller remains to be seen.