10 years of Kinect: hardware hope and total failure

10 years of Kinect: hardware hope and total failure
The Kinect is dead! "The headlines read like this on October 25th and 26th, 2017. Rumors had already circulated that Microsoft had stopped production of its Kinect motion control sensor bar. The press then relied on information from builder Alex Kipman and Xbox Marketing Manager Matthew Lapsen, who confirmed the production stop of the Kinect to Fast Co. Design. It took until the beginning of 2018 until the official end of the high-tech input device. During these months, however, nobody has any great hopes about its continued existence made the Kinect.

And to be honest, it wasn't a big surprise at the time either. After the launch of the Xbox One in November 2013, Kinect (buy now) was fading and was not least partly responsible for the more than bumpy launch of the new Microsoft console, but everything started so nicely and successfully: The camera sensor system started on November 4th, 2010 in the United States and November 10, 2010 in Europe. In Germany, the Kinect cost 149.99 euros - making it a rather expensive "gadget". But that didn’t affect the success: Microsoft announced on November 15 that it had sold over a million copies. 15 days later there were already 2.5 million Kinect devices sold. Even better: at the beginning of January 2020, the Kinect even landed in the Guinness Book of Records. With ten million units sold within the first three months of its launch, it was the "fast-selling consumer device". So the Kinect went over the counter 133,333 times a day after its launch.

Microsoft apparently hit a nerve here, and it almost seemed like the Kinect could be the next big thing in the video game business. But why did it not come to that?

The history of Kinect

Nintendo kicked off a new wave of video games with the Wii released in 2006: The innovative motion control using the Wii remote control created unusual scenes in front of the home console. Suddenly players were moving in the living room; Hardly a party went by without Wii Sports including bowling being played at a late hour. In contrast to Sony's Eyetoy camera, the Nintendo Wii worked relatively reliably and thus became a bestseller - even if the third-party games in particular were missing in the long term.

Microsoft Kinect, however, went a completely different direction. In contrast to the Nintendo Wii, it only required the sensor bar and camera, but not an additional controller. The device scanned and recognized the user and implemented their movements in the game. Microsoft founder Bill Gates already indicated this amalgamation of reality and virtuality at the D5 Conference 2007 in an interview with Apple light figure Steve Jobs. At the time, he was talking about camera-based games in which people could hit balls in the game with a real tennis racket.

The Kinect initially cost US $ 149.99 or euros. At the same time Microsoft put together a package including the Xbox 360 and 4 gigabytes of memory for only 300 euros.

Source: Microsoft A short time later, rumors increased about a possible motion control from Microsoft - as an answer to the Nintendo Wii. But it should take until E3 2009 before the Kinect was presented to the world under the project name "Project Natal". The first Kinect was based on a depth sensor from the Israeli developer Primesense and the Light Coding 3D scanner system. The camera ran at a resolution of only 640 x 480 with a color depth of 24 bits. There was also a 3D microphone for recording speech and ambient noise. In combination, Kinect was able to capture and process gestures as well as faces. Later generations of Kinect even used infrared and were thus less dependent on external light sources.

The trade press and gamers reacted with great interest in the new hardware, and Microsoft was simultaneously sending the first developer kits to the studios. In interviews, Bill Gates later emphasized that well-known manufacturers such as Electronic Arts, Konami, Activision and Ubisoft were already on board to develop the games for "Project Natal". At E3 2010, the sensor bar received its official name and price of around 150 US dollars, as well as a 300 dollar bundle that included the Xbox 360.

Kinect Sports Rivals is part of the last wave the really big Kinect in-house productions. The sports game collection was quite charming, but it was lacking in size.

Source: Microsoft Kinect was everywhere!

We outlined the success of the Kinect in November 2010 at the beginning of this article. The motion control became a unique selling point and benefited significantly from the Xbox 360's strong position on the market. Microsoft initially integrated Kinect more into the major game productions than it did in later years. For example, in Forza Motorsport 4 you could control your car without a gamepad and exclusively on the basis of the Kinect. In Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, you were allowed to shout commands to your fellow campaigners and thus trigger special attacks. Even for the role-playing epic The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, there were around 200 voice commands for fighting and interacting with the game world.

It should be clear that not everything went smoothly, especially with the first Kinect generation . If you wanted to play without any problems, you had to keep the distance and position the camera at the right height. Multiplayer dance duels with players of different sizes repeatedly led to problems in Just Dance or other programs. A certain latency was also noticeable with the gesture controls. Nevertheless: Kinect has become an integral part of the Microsoft universe.

Microsoft initially worked closely with third-party providers and brought well-known brands such as Harry Potter or Sesame Street to Kinect.

Source: Sesame Workshop The crash of the motion controller

But while the Kinect on the Xbox 360 was a huge success, it caused a data protection debate and a lot of uncertainty in connection with the Xbox One. The sensor bar sold as standard with the console was known to allow operation using voice commands and gestures. In order for the device to be switched on with "Xbox on", for example, the console had to be in power-saving mode at all times. Many customers and privacy advocates feared that Microsoft could "eavesdrop" and use the private user information. Of course, the Redmond-based company rowed back and explained that anyone could either deactivate the Kinect or decide whether the data would be stored locally and not uploaded.

But the damage was done, Microsoft had the Kinect with the Xbox One and the all-in-one entertainment concept bypassing the customer. As if that weren't enough of a problem, the Kinect also made sure that the Xbox One was quite expensive at 499 euros (or US dollars). Sony in turn undercut this price with the Playstation 4, which was launched almost at the same time, by 100 euros (or dollars). The result: Microsoft's brave concept failed. Sony quickly secured a comfortable advantage for itself in this generation of consoles and has dominated the market to this day.

Microsoft strongly integrated the Kinect into its own productions. In Forza Motorsports 4 for the Xbox 360, for example, you could control your car with your movements.

Source: Microsoft And very much like the Nintendo Wii, the Microsoft Kinect also died a quiet hardware death. At the beginning of the Xbox One era, with titles such as Kinect Sports Rivals or Fantasia Music Evolved, some games with Kinect support were still released, the number has steadily decreased over the years. Real must-have games were never there, and third-party manufacturers in particular showed little interest in the hardware that was once so successful. The Kinect had gone from being a game changer to a gadget burden for Microsoft.

Secondary use in a positive sense

Even if the Kinect in the gaming area is dead and long buried, it lives on in other areas of application. In 2018, Microsoft set up the sensor as the basis for AI systems. In this case, the target group is no longer the end consumer, but the industry. Under the product name Azure Kinect DK, Microsoft is now selling a 12-megapixel RGP video camera including a depth scanner, gyroscope and other technical options that can be used in areas such as medicine or AI research.

The initially Linking virtuality and reality mentioned by Bill Gates is made possible with the help of the augmented reality service Azure Object Anchors. The main thing here is to "attach" virtual 3D objects to real objects - without any artificial markers or QR codes. In connection with the AR system Hololens 2, new and more manageable possibilities for research or the development of technologies arise. Koichi Kayano, Project Manager of the Technical Service Division of automobile manufacturer Toyota, explained in interviews that this would reduce the risk of errors in production and make maintenance procedures more efficient.

The next generation of Kinect sensors was a key component of the Xbox One concept. However, there were fierce data protection debates in the run-up to the release, which noticeably damaged the image of the new console.

Source: Microsoft These alternative paths became apparent very early in the history of the Kinect. As soon as the first generation was on the market, hackers tried to get it to work on Windows. After initial reluctance, Microsoft opened the system, and accordingly Kinect has been used over the years, for example, as a 3D scanner for corresponding printers, as a therapy device for caring for stroke patients and even in the fashion sector for trying on clothes virtually.

Who thought the voice command "Feed me!" and the delivery of a pizza by the fast food giant Pizza Hut were the most sensible use of the sensor bar, so it is wrong. Microsoft Kinect may have failed in the gaming sector, but it still has its right to exist in many other areas of application.

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