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Kinect May Be Coming to Smartphones

In a Wednesday report about the elimination of the notebook, netbook and tablet in the next ten years, we speculated on what a mobile device would look like in 2021. Would it resemble a watch capable of projecting imagery and following commands based on simple gestures? Looks like Microsoft is already on top of the latter tech to some extent.

Currently Microsoft is licensing the Kinect's PrimeSensor from PrimeSense Ltd. While the motion-sensing gadget was mainly intended for the Xbox 360 console when it originally hit the market, creative minds found other uses for the device by creating unofficial drivers and apps. The "hacking" became so popular that Microsoft eventually released official Kinect drivers for the Windows PC platform although there's speculation that Microsoft planned to support the Windows PC platform all along.

Now there are reports that Microsoft Robotics is tinkering with Kinect. According to the EETimes, the group added Kinect support to its free Robotics Developer Studio. Essentially this means that Kinect will add eyes and ears to any robot running on an embedded Windows-based computer. Thanks to the updated SDK released on Wednesday, manufacturers will have access to Kinect's raw data and pattern recognition algorithms to enable full control of their robots simply by using gestures and verbal commands. It may not be R2-D2 at this point, but one step closer nonetheless.

"Kinect's SDK [software development kit] can now be used with our free Robotics Developer Studio to create natural user interfaces for robots with full access to Kinect smart routines like skeletal recognition," said Stathis Papaefstathiou, General Manager, Microsoft Robotics. "In addition, we know from our user base that Kinect can also be useful for autonomous navigation scenarios."

Papaefstathiou said that, come this fall, his team will add new routines to directly support autonomous navigation tasks. Developers will also have access to the routines controlling the four-microphone array in the Kinect, including noise cancellation and beam steering operations.

But what does this have to do with smartphones? Consider the PrimeSensor as a springboard. Remember that last year Microsoft acquired fabless chip maker Canesta Inc. which coincidentally happens to make a chip-level pattern recognition engine. Canesta's engine supposedly outperforms the Kinect's PrimeSensor tech although numbers haven't been provided.

That said, Microsoft will be able to reduce the Kinect down to about a square centimeter when the company eventually commercializes the Canesta chip. This indicates that sophisticated gesture recognition will not only be enabled in tiny robots and possibly the next Xbox console, but Windows Phone-based smartphones. Who wants to bet Canesta's motion sensing tech will be supported in the modular Windows 8 next year?