Microsoft may really be onto something with the Kinect. Not only has it been a big hit with the gaming crowd, an area where the company is flourishing thanks to its Xbox brand, but the device is proving to have some very real implications in science and medicine.
Institutions, for example, are using Kinect to help prevent falls among the elderly. “Falls lead to functional issues and other health problems, and can be a precursor to mortality. My mom was a pretty classic case,” said Marilyn Rantz, a University of Missouri nursing professor – one of the examples Microsoft is highlighting today. “It’s an age-old problem of aging. So much spins on this particular issue.”
Rantz, along with her colleagues are researching how they can use Kinect to measure and monitor changes in how seniors move to help prevent falls.
“With Kinect, we can gather finely grained, gait data – walking speed, stride length, step time, and we can see detailed trends over time to determine subtle changes and determine very early whether there is functional decline and fall risk,” said Marjorie Skubic, a professor in the college’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department.
“We’ve also tried to make it really passive. For the most part people don’t think about them being there. That’s what we’re going for,” she adds, referring to Kinect sensors in seniors’ apartments.
Medical professionals are also experimenting with the Kinect in other ways, trying to help stroke patients regain movement, access info from operating rooms, and are using it physical therapy and work with children with developmental disabilities, Microsoft says.
“Honestly, what we know about here at Microsoft is but a tiny fraction of what is actually going on,” said Microsoft’s Bill Crounse. He is a medical doctor and the company’s senior director of worldwide health. “Everywhere I go in the world – every hospital, college or public health organization, people are already doing something with Kinect or they plan to.”
At Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, England, doctors are assigning stroke patients to play different Kinect games (including Kinectimals).
“The patient thought it was marvelous and we could actually see an improvement occurring, rather than the normal stretching and pulling a physiotherapist would do to the patient,” said Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the hospital, referring to a patient who had lost their arm movement.
Another patient who had problems with full-body movement and standing up has been playing Bowling. “He was able to work on coordination between the twisting of his body and the movement of his hands, plus his eyes had to look at the screen rather than where his hands are. It’s been enormously beneficial to him,” said Sperrin.
Microsoft shared the following infographic looking at the “Kinect Effect”:
In June, the company released a software development kit for academics and enthusiasts to go wild with Kinect, and next year, it will release one for commercial use.
Microsoft is also donating hundreds of Xbox Kinect Bundles to soldiers.