The summer has delivered more that its share of geeky get-togethers. From the Google I/O to Comic-Con, there have been enough nerdy round-ups to keep even the most sophisticated of Sci-Fi aficionado happy. But one of the more impressive tech fests of the season was the Microsoft Image Cup Competition, held this year in Sydney, Australia. The five-day competition pitted teams from all over the world together to find the best new applications of Microsoft products. There were impressive entries ranging from smart phones that locate land mines to automated shopping carts that aid those in wheelchairs. But far and away the most impressive device used in this competition was the Microsoft Kinect.
The winner was the Ukrainian quadSquad, who developed Enable Talk, a glove capable of translating sign language into audible speech, and many of the devices in competition were geared towards health and education, but there were those who geared towards energy conservation as well. But the American Team Whiteboard Pirates’s entry “Duck Duck Punch” was a feature in a Popular Science write-up of the event, and an excellent example of what developers using the Kinect are capable of producing.
Duck Duck Punch was developed with the help of a physical therapist as a tool in the recovery of stroke victims. It uses the Kinect to monitor the movement of patients who play the game as a means of stimulating muscle memory. “The trick with stroke rehabilitation is that it's not really the victims' [limbs] that need rehabilitating,” Popular Science explains. “It's their brains. The muscles themselves are capable of making the movement, but the brain believes it can't. The game draws on the idea of “mirror therapy,” in which the brain, seeing an image of a moving limb, believes the body is making that motion, even if it isn't.”
What makes the Kinect so effective is the precision of its measurements. A team from Belgium also submitted a sign-language device that allows the friends and family of the hearing impaired to mimic the signs to various words. This is something that would be difficult for anything except a precision instrument. Popular Science also reports how various businesses have started applying this technology. One company named Ikkos Training has used a similar program to assist in the training of certain athletes—including Michael Phelps. Their gear monitors the movements of its clients and shows how they can improve their form through the same type of muscle memory triggers used by the stroke therapy patients.
What moments like these at the Imagine Cup show us are the possibilities that entertainment and digital animation technology can open up in other areas. Along with types of Augmented Reality like Google Glass and the rapid changes going on in smart phone development, devices like Duck Duck Punch demonstrate the increasing role that interactive and virtual technology will play in everyday life—and soon. And while the Kinect may help only some of us reach our Olympic dreams, the rest of us can sleep a little better knowing that our loved ones are being taken that much better care of.