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Whither the Wii for older adults and other Kinect conundrums

Kinect-ion mania. This was an interesting week -- aside from the  mid-term elections, which were as riveting a score-keeping experience as I've watched since the days before the 2004 World Series. But immediately after the election came the arrival and quick store departure of Microsoft's Kinect sensor units: the Target near my home sold out in one (brief) day.  After reading the various near-rhapsodic reviews in the NY Times -- and this June's hopeful speculation about boomer-senior Kinect benefits from the Senior Director, Worldwide Health at Microsoft -- you have to wonder. Says Dr. Crounse: "How about home physical therapy or medical rehabilitation with expert avatars or live health professionals guiding me?  What about supervised exercise programs for weight control?  How about applications for people with cognitive disorders or neuromuscular challenges?"  Yes -- how about all of that?

So you read the reviews and (and the hype) and mull it over.  Kinect ($150) works with an XBox 360 controller, now in the possession of quite a few million households in the US.  To get a bit of perspective, there are 30 million Wii consoles in the US -- well over 50 million world-wide, compared Microsoft's 44 million world-wide. (Anyone with the really accurate Microsoft US numbers, please pipe up, I got tired of trying to find them.) According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 26% of video game players are 50+. Also intriguing, only fifty-four percent of Wii consoles are connected to the Internet -- compared to 73% of the XBox 360.  

Who in the world of boomers and seniors will try Kinect first?  The Wii (now four years in the market) with its fitness and sports-related games has fit nicely into an activities area of senior housing and senior centers. Staff members saw interest among and a way to engage folks all the way from gated community clubhouses to skilled nursing facilities. Not long ago, a nursing home executive director said as an aside (while describing his barely used computer center): "Of course, we also have the Wii." But of course. 

Platform for multiple applied uses? What is so intriguing about Kinect? Well, that sensing unit that recognizes individual movement of users, learns their gestures, tunes the play to their behavior, recognizes voice commands, and even enables video conferencing with family members -- all through the user interface of the boomer-and-senior-ubiquitous TV.  In addition to Dr. Crounse's concepts, think about the opportunity to port various ease-of-use PC software apps to an XBox 360 Kinect environment. Can user interfaces transcend touch screen computer interfaces of devices like HP's TouchSmart, for example, unlikely to have penetrated much of the world of either boomers or seniors. And the iPad and the numerous 'multitouch' (see linked lawsuit) tablet imitators-to-be make traditional touch screens obsolete anyway.

Does a gesture-centric approach replace previous game play? For group use in a convivial environment (both in the room and across the Internet), this seems like the beginning of a shift for those environments that are not already Wii-entrenched. But more possibilities emerge for vendors who choose to take advantage of the Kinect ecosystem that Microsoft is already cultivating. Perhaps a way to think about this:

1) Devices you wear or carry: cell and smart phones, PERS, or other body-worn sensors.

2) Sensor-based systems in your home or location with which you interact or which track you:  webcams, security, environmental sensors, and activity monitoring

3) Devices that are portable: laptops, netbooks, tablet PCs and anything that supports both connected and offline modes

Certainly Microsoft has the cash, competence and compatriot partners to force a paradigm shift among all three, but of course the 4th C -- is for Competitors.


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We got a Kinect with the Xbox 360 last week to test for viability for seniors. After seeing a couple of hands-free contraptions at the AAHSA exhibition last week (one for OT/PT and one for fun), we were interested in seeing how the Xbox Kinect combo performed compared to these very pricey systems ($700 monthly and up for the systems and $299 for the Xbox Kinect bundle plus $50 for each game.)

The performance of the Kinect was actually superior to the expensive systems. In particular, in Ubisoft's My Shape game, the system "scans" you and then tells you how much you weigh. One can imagine that many other uses of this in-home camera/sensor technology as you surmise in your posting.

Additionally, for an extra $50ish a year plus an Internet connection, the Kinect can be used for family and friend videoconferencing through Xbox Live.

Results of our testing: fabulous device since no controller is needed. The motion needed to play the games is natural (better than Wii) and we testers were sore the next day from 2 hours of playing 3 games. We are still working on how a mobility-limited person could utilize the system. The concept of moving your body to make the screen move was also deemed a bit too complicated for moderate dementia folks. All in all, it is a huge leap forward in fun, brain-exercising, body-moving games.

Love this article - you pose some interesting ideas about what direction the Kinect technology can go to benefit seniors. As the Director of a service that provides assistance to independent seniors living at home, we are always working to bring appropriate and beneficial technology to seniors, and these interactive systems can offer both communication and mental/physical activity - much needed for seniors living alone. As you point out, there are often issues that arise that don't take into consideration the specific needs of the user, if the user is a senior with limited computer capability or poor vision. As the demographic changes, hopefully companies will address these limitations so that they can offer even more value to seniors.