Microsoft Releases Noncommercial Kinect SDK

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    Microsoft announced a release of the noncommercial version of the Kinect SDK.  I provide the link to the SDK in this blog post.  I also provide sales data from June 2011 showing that XBox 360 sales have been increasing.

    I had blogged about Kinect hacking in May 2011, noting that developers have been calling this activity hacking (an edgy term) instead of the more plain term development.  In my previous post, I had speculated that this anticipated SDK may be released at TechEd, but it’s actually a bit after that conference.  Release of this new SDK formalizes noncommercial development, and provides the direction for commercial use.  The relative low cost of the device at US$150 combined with the rapid sales of the unit provide large market potential for Microsoft.

    This blog covers business intelligence and this topic is a nexus of a business story, data mining and software development.

    The business story starts with gaming consoles sales data sourced from the NPD Group and published by Major Nelson.

    Major Nelson also shared some data from Microsoft before the June 2011 major E3 conference:

    • Microsoft has now sold 55 million Xbox 360 consoles across 38 countries and sales are accelerating.
    • Xbox 360 maintains its lead in the U.S. as the top selling console in 2011, and ten of the past eleven months.
    • In the first four months of 2011, Xbox 360 has seen a 29 percent year over year increase in sales, which is more than triple the growth of PlayStation 3 and the largest growth of any console on the market.
    • There are now nearly 35 million active Xbox LIVE members worldwide spending an average of almost 60 hours a month on the service.
    • Cumulatively Xbox LIVE members are now logging 2.1 billion entertainment hours a month.
  • The Xbox LIVE feature provides strong data to Microsoft on what and when people are using the games.  Video games I have played have been mostly on standalone devices, originally those person-sized boxes fed with US quarters.  This data does not directly prove that Kinect is responsible for the sales spike, but I have to believe that it does not hurt.  Gaming consoles used to be the end device, and with Kinect, we have an example of a device for the device.  With the new SDK, perhaps entrepreneurs (who should be reading this blog) might now be developing devices for the device for the device.
  • On one website I saw a critique of this data that some of the time spans exceed the production runs.  However, that critique is shallow because this data is for sales not production.  Production of any product does not guarantee or imply actual sales.  Sales can continue to happen (even if at a discount) far beyond the end of any production.  Also, a “production run” is never technically continuous, because units are always produced discretely, and productions can come in batches.  Production run is also different from manufacturer support, the relationship that a maker may have with customers.  Manufacturer support may (and typically does) exceed production runs.

    The data mining angle is that device itself has machine learning algorithms which predict position using its sensors.  Kinect does not actually know positions, but only probabilistically.  The probabilistic nature means that the devices need to be trained, or at least used in a way that allows for prediction.  I recently attended Microsoft TechEd for the first time (both as an attendee and a speaker), and one fact I did not mention in my writeup is that they had several Kinects set up for the attendees, and it was the first time I had the experience of using the game.  I played Michael Jackson the Experience for about an hour outside the dining area.

    I have been a social dancer for years (including Swing and Salsa) and that experience gave me a kinesthetic impression of how the device and that particular game works.  I do not personally own an Xbox 360, but I have the older Xbox and over time have encouraged people to play Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) especially at dance events like Atlanta Lindy Exchange.  From my observation on seeing people play DDR, I believe most social dancers do well on DDR, but dance pads do not reflect where people actually put their feet on a dance floor (which could be anywhere).  Comparing Xbox DDR and Xbox 360 Kinect, I would characterize the latter as a body motion experience compared with the stepping accuracy needed for DDR.   Because Kinect is a probabilistic device, I would not compare the accuracy ratings from the Kinect dance games to be comparable (at present) to the more deterministic experience of DDR.   The noncommercial Kinect SDK has a wider application beyond dance games, and beyond games in general.

    In the MVC (Model-View-Controller) development design pattern:

    • The Model is the combination of the Kinect device and algorithms (and how the game interprets it)
    • The View or Viewer is the viewing device
    • And, as Microsoft says, You are the Controller

    For data mining in general, the observations are the controller too, whether it be sales data, financial numbers, or multidimensional attributes from an Analysis Services cube.

    The link to Microsoft’s announcement of the Kinect SDK coincides with other marketing events, including an invited developers’ conference called “Code Camp” and broadcasted on Microsoft’s Channel9:

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