The Kinect will never die.
Microsoft debuted its motion-sensing camera on June 1st, 2009, showing off a handful of gimmicky applications for the Xbox 360; it promised easy, controller-free gaming for the whole family. Back then, Kinect was called Project Natal, and Microsoft envisioned a future where its blocky camera would expand the gaming landscape, bringing everyday communication and entertainment applications to the Xbox 360, such as video calling, shopping, and binge-watching.
This was the first indication that Microsoft’s plans for Kinect stretched far beyond the video game industry. With Kinect, Microsoft popularized the idea of yelling at our appliances — or, as it’s known today, the IoT market. Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana (especially that last one) are all derivative of the core Kinect promise that when you talk to your house, it should respond.
Kinect for Xbox 360 landed in homes in 2010 — four years before the first Echo — and by 2011 developers were playing around with a version of the device specifically tailored for Windows PCs. Kinect for Windows hit the market in 2012, followed by an Xbox One version in 2013 and an updated Windows edition in 2014.
None of these devices disrupted the video game or PC market on a massive scale. Even as artists, musicians, researchers, and developers found innovative uses for its underlying technology, Kinect remained an unnecessary accessory for many video game fans. Support slowed and finally disappeared completely in October 2017, when Microsoft announced it would cease production of the Kinect. It had sold 35 million units over the device’s lifetime.
However, the Kinect lives on today in some of Microsoft’s most forward-looking products, including drones and in artificial intelligence applications. Kinect sensors are a crucial component in HoloLens, the company’s augmented reality glasses, for example. And just today, Microsoft revealed Project Kinect for Azure, a tiny device with an advanced depth sensor, 360-degree mic array and accelerometer, all designed to help developers overlay AI systems on the real world.
“Our vision when we created the original Kinect for Xbox 360 was to produce a device capable of recognizing and understanding people so that computers could learn to operate on human terms,” said Alex Kipman, Technical Fellow for AI Perception and Mixed Reality at Microsoft. “Creative developers realized that the technology in Kinect (including the depth-sensing camera) could be used for things far beyond gaming.”