Yesterday, Microsoft held an event to announce its brand new Kinect sensor, and... Uh... Something else that we can't remember offhand, so it must not be that important. If you've hung around here long enough, you've probably noticed that Kinect sensors are on all kinds of robots nowadays, because they're inexpensive and pretty darn awesome. Plus, since so many people have them, there's a huge community that encourages ease of use.
But Kinect is nearly three years old, which is basically prehistoric in technological terms. It's time for something new, and better, and here it is.
Now, this is all sort of breaking-ish news, so we don't have any actual specs on the new Kinect yet. Most of the details that we've got are from various (brief) hands-on demos, but here's a rundown of the new stuff.
- "High-definition," "high-fidelity" 3D vision. Obviously, the biggest deal for robotics is the improved 3D sensing. We're not sure what "high-definition" means, exactly, but it's definitely better, possibly 1080p 60fps better. The sensor itself operates based on time of flight (like a radar gun), making it at least three times more sensitive and lighting-independent. It can see the freakin' buttons on your shirt from several feet away! This means better object recognition, better mapping, better everything that you depend on 3D data for.
- Active IR. Kinect can now see in the dark. IN THE DARK, PEOPLE!
- Skeletal tracking with joint rotation. When combined with a physics model, the sensor can estimate muscle movements and forces.
- Pulse detection (!). The sensor tracks color changes in your skin to determine your heartbeat.
- Emotion detection. In addition to tracking binary things like eyes and mouth open or close, Kinect also estimates your emotional state and whether or not you're paying attention to it.
The most detailed demo we've seen is from Wired, which got an early look at the system, and their run through provides a good look at all of these features:
With all of this new tech crammed into the sensor, we've gotten way beyond just 3D vision. We're talking potential for the new Kinect to be a full-on human-robot interaction tool, with such detailed face tracking and gesture and expression recognition.
It's perhaps a bit premature to get too excited, since nobody's actually slapped one of these babies on a robot yet, but seeing as every single Xbox One will have a new Kinect included in the box, we're looking forward to a whole herd of new sensors being released into the wild. Just not until December, sigh. Let's hope it's worth the wait.
[ Xbox One ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.