MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Four years ago, the Wii revolutionized video games with its motion-sensitive controller. Today, Microsoft released its one-up on Nintendo. It's called Kinect. That's K-I-N-E-C-T. For the first time, you can play without a remote - using just your arms and legs.
And as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, Kinect may be the beginning of a big shift in how we interact with computers.
LAURA SYDELL: Kinect definitely got me off the couch.
I'm getting oh, no. All right, got it. Got it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SYDELL: I'm playing a game in a virtual water tank that has me contorting my body to plug leaky holes.
Oh, got one of the floor. Yeah, you get the ones on the floor with your feet, right? Okay.
All I do is move, and my avatar follows along.
Ms. SHANNON LOFTUS (Microsoft): What it does is, it takes the controller, that you normally hold in your hands, out of the picture entirely.
SYDELL: Microsoft's Shannon Loftus.
Ms. LOFTUS: I mean, the idea is - really, that you are up, you're off the couch, you're using your whole body to play and getting a great workout, and having a lot of fun while you're doing it.
SYDELL: And Kinect takes advantage of its lack of controller to give full exercise classes.
(Soundbite of video game)
Unidentified Woman: We'll now do another tai chi travel. Raise your arms.
SYDELL: But my arms aren't positioned quite right, and Kinect can detect it. Instructions on the screen guide me until I get it right.
Kinect is a boxy device with a special camera that attaches to Microsoft's game player, the Xbox 360. Loftus says the camera also uses facial recognition software.
Ms. LOFTUS: I've created what is called a Kinect ID, so when I walk into the field of view of the sensor, it recognizes me, and it brings up my avatar and my profile.
SYDELL: Loftus can also talk to Kinect.
Ms. LOFTUS: And there is the movie "Date Night."
(Soundbite of film, "Date Night")
Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) What did you learn in school today?
Unidentified Child #1 (Actor): (As character) Nothing.
Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Oh, fantastic, we'll have to pay for college.
SYDELL: If Loftus wants to see a different part of a film, she doesn't have to go searching around for the remote.
Ms. LOFTUS: Fast forward. So now it's fast-forwarding. Faster. Now it's going up to 4X. Slower.
SYDELL: Using Kinect is a bit like science fiction - which it was, until recently.
Remember the popular 2002 film "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise? In scenes like this one, Cruise sits in front of a computer screen and flips through video clips with a wave of his hand.
(Soundbite of film, "Minority Report")
Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Chief John Anderton) Female, senior. She's smoking a pipe. She's laughing.
SYDELL: That vision from science fiction is what drove technology visionaries like Bill Gates when he founded Microsoft, says technology analyst Roger Kay.
Mr. ROGER KAY (Technology Analyst): Basically, he just unleashed voice recognition and gesture and touch and handwriting recognition and basically, all the technologies. There's technical groups at Microsoft working on all those problems.
SYDELL: But Bill Gates isn't the only one who has had this vision. Michel Tombroff is the CEO of Softkinetic, a Belgian-based company that makes cameras for gesture-based computing devices. He says they are working on getting their cameras to do all kinds of tasks.
Mr. MICHEL TOMBROFF (Chief Executive Officer, Softkinetic): Controlling your temperature of your home, the lighting, the security devices. You'll be able to do that in the hall, in the living room, by just doing specific gestures that would be recognized by the cameras embedded into your living room.
SYDELL: Although Softkinetic is a Microsoft competitor, Tombroff says the publicity around Kinect is opening doors for his company that were previously closed.
Mr. TOMBROFF: People come back us and say, well, you were right. Now, we see the benefit. We see that companies in the consumer electronics market will adopt this technology. Let's move on.
SYDELL: But standing on the shoulders of Microsoft could be risky. Analyst Kay thinks consumers might not be so happy to pay another $150 for Kinect, on top of the $300 they already laid out for their XBox 360. Consumers will also want a lot of game choices, and developers will only make more gesture-based games if a lot of people buy Kinect.
Mr. KAY: Everyone else has to accept it for it to become a standard. Basically, other people have to say: I'd like to enable gestures in my world, and all the programmers have to go in that direction.
SYDELL: Even if Microsoft doesn't succeed this time, Kay says the technology has reached the point where it's clearly possible to have a more natural interaction with a computer. But people have been talking about getting rid of the mouse, the keyboard and the controller for years. And it still may be a little too soon to throw them all into the recycling bin.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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