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Microsoft shares Kinect with the masses, hope for the medical industry?

Posting in Education

The core source code for Microsoft's Kinect technology is now available, but what does this mean for the medical industry?

Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing device, which lets people use their body to interact and play games instead of being restricted to a standard controller, has been a popular development in the gaming world. However, the technological advance itself goes beyond wasting a few hours on your favorite sports or fitness game -- as such technology can have applications in fields from education to medical.

The underlying code of the system has previously been kept under wraps, with developers forced to use an official toolkit to play with the software. However, in order to get feedback and improve Kinect technology, Microsoft has announced that the source code is now available, and the tech giant will assist those who want to further adapt the technology for their own ends, as reported by the BBC.

Without these limitations, and the full code now available on the CodePlex website, developers will find it much easier to adapt Microsoft's Kinect technology. Kinect technology may have seemed like science fiction a few decades ago -- real-life holodecks notwithstanding -- but it is the possibility of using digital interfaces to connect with neural pathways, limited physical movements and enhance both communication and virtual object technology which could have positive results for the medical industry.

There are a number of conditions, many incurable or sudden, such as strokes or motor-neurone disease, which limit the physical abilities of a sufferer and prevent them from completing basic tasks or being able to reach out and contact those around them.

But why would Microsoft's Kinect technology be important in relation to these problems?

Recently, Intel revealed its plans to use technological advances to allow Stephen Hawking to "speak" more efficiently, as in recent times, the physicist is limited to only one word per minute through a computer which detects minute physical movements. However, if Kinect technology is made truly open-source, then developments could be made to help others with severe physical limitations to reconnect with the world around them.

In its fledgling stage, Kinect technology has been applied in this area, as the case of Chad Ruble demonstrates. After suffering a stroke, Ruble's mother developed a condition which disrupts language centers and makes it hard to communicate emotions. With this in mind, her son created a new type of keyboard with visual icons representing different feelings, before hacking his Kinect system to process input based on his mother's limited hand gestures before sending the message as an email.

These simple but crucial changes to a woman's life are made possible through this kind of technology. Now restrictions on Kinect's source code have been lifted, we can hope that more developers will come forward with innovative uses to give people with disabilities a channel in which to reconnect.

Image credit: Microsoft

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— By on March 11, 2013, 11:58 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure