Two disruptive technologies now in one company -- Skype and Kinect. Looking back at the past year of technologies that could make a difference in the lives of older adults, I have often thought that Skype and Kinect, not smartphones and tablets, might be the two most significant. Skype because it brings long distance families together (so many examples!) and Kinect because it enables an interaction without the limitations of a mouse, keyboard, or controller. Now both of these are Microsoft's -- and once they've figured out how to commercialize them, we can expect Microsoft, as they have throughout their history, to treat them like platforms for a broad ecosystem of willing partners to extend into new applications. And therefore, there will be apps that make a difference in the lives of older adults.
Kinect – a universe of developers transcending the game paradigm. Following the sale of 10 million Kinects, motion-sensing controllers that enable games to be played with gestures, Microsoft recently released a (free) Software Development Kit so that the millions of hackers, university researchers and scientists can do what they do best – invent something Microsoft hasn’t thought of yet. The kit is for creation of ‘non-commercial’ apps that take advantage of Kinect’s capability to sense depth/distance, recognize motions. And from the date last fall that Kinect was released, ideas for its use have come a long way and are not encumbered with the limitations of Xbox ownership and game playing. Take a look at a few of the applications that demonstrate ability to apparently detect facial expressions or remotely manage everything from group therapy avatars to robots to navigation for the blind and read more thoughts about the Kinect potential for igniting the imagination of developers for real-world purposes.
The ‘Game’ in Kinect was a distraction – instead, it's a user interface, not yet applied. An arcane data point you probably want to check before entering an operating room: Surgeons who play video games three hours per week make 37 percent fewer errors than non-players in laparoscopic surgery simulations (2005). What’s the important part? They are honing a skill that involves manipulating a joystick. Likewise, what’s the important aspect of Kinect? Not as an Xbox game replacement for the Wii – that's too short-sighted. Instead, it’s a user interface that begs to be applied to caregiving, family communication, and home health applications. Think about replacing expensive home monitoring sensor systems with apps that know you’re home when you turn on the TV, that enable you to connect to your family members with the wave of a hand – that smooth the launch of a Skype session (that’s Microsoft’s too!), and follows a disabled individual around the grocery store. That's taking the long view.
Be ready when the commercial SDK is released. No doubt Microsoft is working on the licensing for the commercial Kinect SDK (no Xbox will be required and as of this writing, no date has been set). In the meantime, let’s see businesses like Intel-GE CareInnovations search the KinectHacks websites and begin to apply Kinect as a next-generation of QuietCare’s remote activity monitoring. Let’s see Philips transcend Lifeline with AutoAlert as the next generation of fall detection in the home. Let’s see a social Kinect app that enable older adults to participate group activities at other locations, experience a check-in at the end of the day from a family member, or receive comprehensive telecaregiving from a geriatric care manager. And let's be clear -- as the web has proven repeatedly, protecting proprietary user interfaces when there is a more usable, friendly, and appealing interface design invariably turns out to be a sign of weakness, not strength.