Kinetic energy: The untapped uses for Xbox Kinect

Kinect for Xbox
© Microsoft

Sure it can track your arms right now, but here's what it could do with yet more elbow grease.

It can already detect body movement so you can play games without a controller. It can even let you order pizza without having to push a single button. Yep, Microsoft’s Kinect motion and voice sensing add-on for the Xbox 360 is already a powerful bit of kit, but the new version just around the corner can do even more.

When the Xbox One goes on sale on 22 November, you’ll be able to plug in a revamped Kinect with an enhanced sensor with better depth perception and the ability to track up to six people at once that can process 6.5 million pixels per second. It can recognise who’s in front of the camera, and even turn on at the sound of your voice - but that’s just the start. Here are seven ways Microsoft can unleash the true power of the second-gen Kinect in the years to come.

© Microsoft

As the ultimate air guitar

You can already use Kinect to play virtual downhill ice cross in your living room, but the first-gen model stops short of tracking individual fingertips, just the limbs they’re joined to. The new Kinect is able to track your fingertips, even in a crowded living room, and that could give a new lease of life to the music genre, letting you play Rocksmith [] without having to buy a real guitar, or even paving the way for a Guitar Hero or Rock Band revival. All those costly plastic peripherals burst the rhythm game bubble, but on Xbox One, you might not even need them.

As an art teacher

You can already use a Kinect hacked to work with a PC to make 3D models using Autodesk, but Microsoft could bring the tech into the mainstream with the Xbox One. Why not let everyone have a go at 3D modelling right in their own living rooms? And what if Microsoft, which has been moving rapidly into hardware in recent years, released an Xbox 3D printer to go with it? The mind boggles at the possibilities.

As a full-room projector for your games

© Microsoft

In January this year, Microsoft’s Research division stunned gamers with a demo of IllumiRoom, a concept that pairs a Kinect sensor with a projector to create what could fairly be described as the most immersive game experience ever made - next to the Oculus Rift, of course. The Kinect camera works out the measurements of the room it’s in so that the projector can accurately extend the surface of your TV screen out across the walls, meaning lasers fire out of your TV and whizz right across the sofa, and much more besides. Microsoft insists this is only an idea for now, but we’re hoping it’ll be publicly released during the Xbox One’s lifetime - we want a go already.

As a concierge for your TV

© Microsoft

One of the Xbox One launch games, retro revival beat’em up Killer Instinct, can recognise who’s sitting down for their turn and instantly load their favourite character - it’s this sort of user profiling that could really help the Xbox One compete against the cheaper Sony PS4, especially if Microsoft can expand the tech to work with apps and even live TV. Imagine sitting down and automatically being shown the right Netflix account, or recommended new movies and shows based on what you’ve watched previously. For better or worse, it could even tailor the ads your TV shows based on who’s watching.

As the ultimate video conferencing tool

The Xbox One comes with Skype built-in, letting you video chat using Kinect while playing games or even watching live telly. It’s already a multi-tasking monster, in other words, but it could do even more in the future. Skype’s already on your phone, your PC and your TV, so why not merge them into one seamless app that diverts the call to wherever you are, no passwords or log-ins required? What if you could transfer calls from your smartphone to your TV - and its beefy speakers - with a simple tap? And switch from a simple mobile call to a full on video conference just by walking in the room? Microsoft owns Skype. Microsoft owns the Windows Phone platform. We just need somebody to join the dots between the two.

The only gym you’ll ever need

Microsoft’s first Kinect games for Xbox 360 were all about exercise, but they were limited, mostly just short bursts of flailing around wildly in your living room. Kinect on Xbox One on the other hand could easily become the only cardio kit you ever need: Xbox Fitness is headed to the service, complete with workouts from famous fitness coaches. The new Kinect can even detect your heart rate from several feet away, so you’ll be able to tell just how much of a sweat you’ve worked up, no clip-on accessories or metal bars needed. Who knows, in the future perhaps you’ll even be able to have virtual physio sessions courtesy of the Kinect camera. So long, expensive gym membership.

As an incredible PC plug-in

© Microsoft

While the Kinect that comes bundled with the Xbox One won’t plug into a PC, Microsoft is also releasing a version for academics and enthusiasts based on the same technology that works with Windows computers. It’s here we’ll likely see the real breakthroughs first, as developers hack away at the clever sensor without constraint. Microsoft’s video above from 2011 shows the amazing potential of Kinect plugged into a PC - from being used in surgery to orchestral performances - and with the increased sensitivity of the new model, even more is now possible. Here’s hoping Microsoft will cherry pick the best PC innovations and bring them to the living room too.