Microsoft Kinect Learns to Read Hand Gestures, Minority Report-Style Interface Now Possible

The new Kinect API may replace your mouse with hand motions

1 min read
Microsoft Kinect Learns to Read Hand Gestures, Minority Report-Style Interface Now Possible

Not only is the Microsoft Research Cambridge team finally releasing their 3D modeling API Kinect Fusion, they’re bringing you gesture control—with mouse clicks and multi-touch, pinch-to-zoom interactions.

Current Kinect sensors can track joints in your body, but not small gestures, in particular hand motions. But that's about to change. Using machine learning, Kinect can now recognize open and closed hands. In the video below, Jamie Shotton, the man behind Kinect’s skeletal modeling, shows how users can use their hands to navigate a map or draw using a painting program.

As developers explore this new Kinect API capability (and as Microsoft refines the level of gesture recognition beyond open and closed hands), the possibilities here look pretty exciting. We're hoping, of course, to finally throw away our mouses and use computers like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The API will be released in the next Kinect for Windows SDK.

And if you’re waiting to be able to build your own custom Kinect avatar with your hands without building a program, you may not have to wait that long. The Microsoft Beijing research team demoed their prototype Body Avatar, which lets you do just that—whether you want to be a five-legged dragon or a one legged-goose. We'll be posting that video soon. Stay tuned. 

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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