New patients entering Alex’s Place, a paediatric hospital in Miami, Florida, that specialises in cancer care, are often understandably apprehensive.
To put the young patients at their ease, they are greeted by an avatar – they can choose between a robot, a teddy bear or a frog – projected onto an interactive screen. Patients can then control the avatar with their own movements.
The system is not just for fun and relaxation, however. By monitoring the child’s interactions, the doctors can unobtrusively check their motor skills, movements and social skills.
It was built using a version of Kinect, Microsoft’s video game interface, that has been tailored for use with its Windows operating system. The company has high hopes for the technology in non-gaming applications.
“With Kinect for Windows, we see human-computer interactions that are coming closer to mirroring the way humans naturally interact: effortless, transparent and contextual communication between users and technology – by using voice and gesture – is now becoming possible,” Oscar Murillo, user experience architect for Kinect for Windows told the Seattle Interactive Conference 2012 in October. “We see interactions that are as natural as human beings themselves.”
Microsoft is already working with more than 350 companies across the globe to build other enterprise-focused Kinect applications. Such efforts demonstrate how Microsoft’s movement-sensing technology has grown beyond its gaming roots.
In fact, the use of Kinect in medicine is not so surprising. One of the key patents within the system is held by Zeev Zalevsky, head of the electro-optical study programme at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. These days, Zalevsky has a different focus: he develops imaging technology for biomedical sensors, and has won prizes for his contribution to medical research.