Kinect the Dots: It’s Watching You

Photograph: Bodymetrics

Using Kinect technology, this pod can scan customers' figures and help them find clothing that fits.

Can Microsoft’s Kinect make you a better parent?

Maybe. But you’ll likely have to live with a house full of motion sensors to find out.

The device was originally intended to freshen up the Xbox 360 and leapfrog Nintendo’s Wii gaming console. Now, Kinect is seen leaping into other areas, such as online shopping, interactive TV shows and yes, even parenting.

Since Microsoft released last month a $250 version of Kinect for Windows PCs and software tools to help write apps, more and more companies and developers are experimenting with new uses for the motion sensor.

As I wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek, Kinect is already expanding into unexpected places, such as Nissan’s auto dealerships, where customers will soon be able to try out cars that haven’t yet arrived in the lot. Meanwhile, Bloomingdales’ Century City store in Los Angeles will install a white pod using Kinect’s technology to scan customers’ figures and match them with the perfect pair of pricey jeans (because if you’re spending $175, they had better look good). The pod is slated to be there this week as part of a sale promotion.

Why stop there? Customers could use that body scan for online shopping, says Jonathan Hull, vice president at digital ad agency Razorfish, which worked on the pod project with its maker, Bodymetrics. Consumers could dress up their 3-D image with clothing from a website, to help them decide whether that designer dress with a 50 percent discount will fit. With the right app, the digital scan could be stored on a mobile phone. Enter a participating store and suitable items could be flagged.

Microsoft is also working with entertainment partners to help personalize TV shows for viewers by using Kinect to monitor their movements. The company won’t say exactly what it plans, but the technology could allow a chef on a cooking show to check on whether the home user is adding the ingredients properly, says Dave McCarthy, general manager for Microsoft Game Studios. A yoga teacher on TV could use it to see if the viewer’s pose is correct.

For those who think privacy is overrated, other scenarios emerge if Microsoft can convince consumers to install multiple Kinect sensors, says James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. A home setup of Kinects could monitor a family’s physical activity and give a daily fitness score. You could use it for home security, to watch your latchkey kid and call for help if something is amiss.

Some of these scenarios may seem a bit wide-eyed but they’re largely possible with the current Kinect technology, which tracks things like voice, 3-D depth of people or objects viewed by the camera and skeletal data, which gives information on the position and movement of 20 joints in the body.

So could Kinect improve your parenting skills? It may sound far-fetched, but McQuivey says it could track how many words you say to your spouse or kids, how much time you spend with them, how close you sit to them, and then generate a report on your “relationship health.”

If the results aren’t good, Kinect can double as a videoconferencing system for sessions with the family therapist.


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