Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Kinect for Christmas: future unleashed!

Some pieces of technology just pull the eyeballs out of your sockets. This one had me literally leaping about with delight. I remember seeing Doom, Google Earth, Skype, Wii and iPhone for the first time. You just shake your head at the wonder of what you see, and so it is with Kinect.

It was much quicker to connect and set up than I had anticipated. You just need as a big a space as you can muster, free from things that break, because, believe me, within seconds you’re cutting some weird shapes on the dancefloor, gym mat or game space.

For those of you who don’t yet know, Kinect eliminates the need for a controller (although it can still be used in some games such as Harry Potter). Your bodies are scanned through more than 50.000 dots, so it recognises positions, gestures and on top of this voice, to give you a really new learning and game experience. All the shoot ‘em up fanboys will cry ‘so what’ but my very own Black Ops 3rd prestige level 46 son, was whooping with joy when he gave it a go.

When you see that sensor eye swivel up automatically to get you in shot, you know you’re about to see something special.

Dive straight in

On Christmas Day I had 4 to 80 year olds playing, and lots of ages in between. The science-fiction nature of the technology gets their attention but, as we all know, familiarity breeds contempt, so what kept them going? ‘Ease of entry’ was the big draw. For those unfamiliar with gaming and/or consoles, you simply step up and the sensor recognises you, telling you to simply step back if you get too close. It’s easier than any other games machine to use as it does all the work. The step by step instructions get you to DO things, without having to resort to buttons, joysticks or mice. You’re in and playing before you realise it.

That’s me that is

As your on-screen avatar reacts in exactly the way you do, it’s quite strange to catch yourself, brushing back your hair, scratching you nose, standing in a certain position or striking a pose. We see ourself as others see us. We don’t often see ourselves, except in front of static mirrors and as Kinect shows you moving, it’s sort of familiar yet unfamiliar, fascinating but weird. Once you start playing the doppelganger effect is natural.


You know those photos taken on rollercoasters that you pay $10 for on exit, you get a batch of these for free, taken at just the moment in the game you’re likely to be in an extreme jump or pose. This is a nice piece of after-game feedback, although you need a well lit room for good shots. In some games, such as Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, your body image appears on your avatar, face, clothes and all.

Learning with Kinect

Kinect has to be played to be believed and it turns the Xbox into more than just a games console. You’re witness to the start of something new and big. We’ve had ‘first person shooters’ now we have the possibility of true ‘first person doers’ and ‘first person thinkers’. It really does know what you’re doing, communicating and saying. The sensor’s eye’s the limit.

First person doer

Kinect’s most obvious first batch of applications are around exercise and sports– doing something physical. As it can scan in your body shape it can also have a go at your height, rough weight and BMI. Fitness and exercise games are already available with everything from aerobics, gym exercises, Tai Chi to yoga. Poses in yoga and other light forms of exercise can be tracked, as can balance and actual performance. You can cheat with hand devices by shaking them up and down, you can’t with Kinect’s roving eye. Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, gives you yoga, workouts with weights and gym games. Personal trainers guide you through and give feedback in Tai Chi, Yoga, fitness classes, boxing blocks at they appear, hoops for stomach and hips, stack em up for upper body. Dance is the other obvious first genre and there’s already an eight-ball selection of titles, such as Dance Masters, Zumba and Dance Central.

Then there’s sports and sports simulations. One can easily imagine, superb golf, tennis and otherracquet simulations and coaching programmes that match your performance and shape it towards those of champions. Kinect Sports has football, track & field, boxing and bowling. This really is exhausting stuff.

Alternatively, Kinect Adventures is a good introduction to exercise with fun. River Rush, where you river raft on your feet (on your own or with two on the boat) and is hugely energetic.Rallyball has you returning balls by head, arm, hand, knee or foot; truly knackering. Space pop allows you to defy gravity and fly by raising your arms to pop bubbles. Reflex Ridge has you dodging obstacles in a wipeout game. 20,000 leaks sees you trapped in a glass tank where you reach with hands and feet to plug leaks caused by aggressive fish and sharks.

Moving beyond this to therapeutic physiotherapy, where balance and the regaining of physical skills is necessary, these applications can rehabilitate after a bone break, strain, stroke or amputation, avoiding the lack of compliance and frequent hospital visits.

Then there’s physical tasks at work, such as manual handling, physical maintenance, object manipulation, operating machinery and vehicles. Many jobs have manual components that require learning and actual practice. There could therefore be a role in vocational training for such technology.

This learn by doing can be taken over into kinaesthetic approaches to learning maths, science and other subjects. There’s no reason why objects and symbols can’t be manipulated in calculations and virtual labs. In fact, here’s a hacked example. There is evidence that this ‘apparatus’ approach to these subjects helps with both understanding and retention.

In history, we could wander the streets of Rome (Caspian have already built the 3D model and game for web delivery). Any environment past to present, microscopic to astronomical can be walked through, explored and used in active learning.

First person thinker

Peter Molyneux thinks a slew of new genres will emerge as our imaginations grasp the potential. His Milo demo is already the stuff of legend. In teaching people how to think and behave, we at last have a piece of technology that gets rid of the input barrier; those annoying mice, keyboards, controllers, joysticks and even touchscreens that put so much cognitive lag between what we want to do and what we can or actually do. Input devices are simply the design flaws of immature technology. We don’t carry use them in most real life situations, so when they vanish, everything seems so much more real.

Face to face tasks such as meetings, chairing meetings, interviewing, appraisals, disciplinary meetings, grievance meetings, coaching, counselling and mentoring will become topics in simulators as we learn to do these things in safe environments by simply sitting down on front of the screen. We can make all of the mistakes that others make in real life, to learn from failure rather than inflicting our failures on others.

Customer service skills with a wide range of possible customers, randomly generated, or weighted towards your client base, can be presented and your behaviour and words tracked. Even ancillary tasks such as checking in baggage for airports staff, handing over security badges, searching at security and so on, will be possible.

Sales skills can be sharpened through both visual feedback and voice recognition, so that the right listening skills and reactions can be learnt back at the ranch where they do no harm, and not in front of real customers.

Presentation skills can be taught quickly, with immediate feedback on performance, both physical and vocal. You will be able to see yourself present as well as get an intelligent diagnosis of your faults. Timing, gestures, position, speed of delivery, emphasis should all be trackable.

At a higher level, full organisational and business skills around business planning, sales, marketing and strategic talks can be tackled in realistic simulations.

Me, you, them

Note that in Kinect, or Kinect-like technology there’s:

1. One-to-self learning with you on the screen

2. One-to-one learning with someone on the screen

3. One to one with another real person

4. Or a threesome or more

It’s a self, first, second and many thinker simulation tool. The combinations of all three make this an extremely versatile simulator, come game, learning experience.

Future of Kinect

We are at the start of an era where learning will be freed (where appropriate) from the dry page, freed from the lecture theatre and classroom, and available to all though digital abundance and duplication on affordable technology in every home. This is exciting as much education and training is trapped in the inefficient environments of schools, colleges, universities, classrooms and lecture halls. If we don’t find ways of freeing learning from the huge capital cost of building and running buildings, and paying armies of often stressed teachers, then these possibilities must be entertained. Of course you can always sit back and play non-Kinect games such as the classic Halo, or shove in a DVD.

(Next post on mindblowing Kinect applications already in research and development.)


Rob Hubbard said...

Great posting Donald. I ordered mine last night so I'm getting quite excited now! I've never been motivated to buy a games console until now - there was a great article in Wired magazine on Kinect that really caught my imagination. Now we just need to hack it so we can develop content without mega-budgets!

Donald Clark said...

the MIT open source code is available, so good luck. If smart young people like you in the learning business come up with some good simple applications, we're on our way.

s0ngb1rd said...

They ran out of these when I went to buy one at Christmas, but I will definately be getting one soon....cannot wait.

Greg Evans said...


Are you able to comment on how Kinnect compares with PS2's Eye Toy?

As far as I know Eye Toy was first to the mass market with "a piece of technology that gets rid of the input barrier" in 2003, but appears to be (understandably) less sophisticated.

I'm considering Kinnect or a substitute as a platform for specialised maintenance training (submarines and warships), where the ability to problem solve by tracing and testing systems that are interwoven throughout complex 3-D spaces is critical.

Jasper Chan said...

Hi Donald, your article has really opened my eyes. I am particularly interested in the safety training (manual handling, physical maintenance and so forth). Do you have hints on where I can find those information / codes? thanks in advance!