Kinect Is Back!
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Monday, 07 May 2018

It's not a simple return to what things were but it is still good news. Microsoft has announced at Build that it has decided to make Kinect available to developers.

kinectstick

The original Kinect was supposed to be the next big thing in gaming, and it might have been if the software had followed through. But most gamers gave up on it and returned to their usual keyboards and game controllers. As a result the Kinect wasn't the success that Microsoft thought it might be. However, it was a success as an input device for AI and other adventurous applications. The Kinect, especially in the early days, had the ability to wow even the most jaded programmers with thoughts of what it could be used for. Then Microsoft killed it in slow stages in the way that Microsoft does when it doesn't want to actually announce to the world that a product is dead.

kinectxbox

 

At the moment the Kinect web page has the message:

"Manufacturing of the Kinect sensor and adapter has been discontinued, but the Kinect technology continues to live on in products like the HoloLens, Cortana voice assistant, the Windows Hello biometric facial ID system, and a context-aware user interface."

It also recommends that users who need a 3D camera move to the Intel RealSense:

As developers transition from Kinect hardware, Microsoft encourages developers to look into Intel's RealSense depth cameras.

This is a chilling recommendation when you recall how easy Intel finds it to drop products that aren't core to its business. If it can drop the Edison and its other IoT processors, do you really think that the RealSense camera is a good bet for the long term?

So, if Microsoft can find a way to make the Kinect somehow central to its interests then it would be a welcome return. The only problem is that in the announcement which happened at  the beginning of this year's Build conference has a slightly worrying title: Project Kinect for Azure. The Azure word is worrying because it probably means that the hardware is going to be tied in some way to the use of Azure AI services.

There is no doubt that the new sensor is interesting: 

  • It is a time of flight sensor like the second generation Kinect that was discontinuted
  • Highest number of pixels (megapixel resolution 1024x1024)
  • overall system power of 225-950mw
  • Automatic per pixel gain selection enabling large dynamic range allowing near and far objects to be captured cleanly
  • Global shutter allowing for improved performance in sunlight
  • Multiphase depth calculation method enables robust accuracy even in the presence of chip, laser and power supply variation
  • Low peak current operation even at high frequency lowers the cost of modules 

kinect4

A prototype of the experimental Kinect 4 sensor

 

The only information we have on how it integrates with Azure is:

"With Project Kinect for Azure, the fourth generation of Kinect now integrates with our intelligent cloud and intelligent edge platform, extending that same innovation opportunity to our developer community."

We are sure that this new Kinect won't work with Xbox, but will it work standalone with a PC? There is no news of the relationship with the Intel RealSense, only a reference to the past:

"We discontinued production of second generation Kinects last year, however we worked with Intel to ensure Windows developers can continue building PC solutions with Intel’s RealSense depth cameras."

Well thanks, Microsoft. The guidance we need is to know if we should continue to place the future on RealSense or wait for Kinect 4. It is at times like these that you remember what Microsoft is and how it works - this is not so much fear, but it is doubt and confusion.

More Information

Introducing Project Kinect for Azure

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Last Updated ( Monday, 07 May 2018 )