Microsoft, which has gradually embraced hackers tinkering with its Kinect motion-sensing video game controller, is now working on a Kinect for PCs.
Ever since Kinect debuted last year, hackers have fiddled with the device to come up with scores of new uses for it, everything from using gestures to navigate a computer's file system to providing visual sensors for robots.
But those hacks relied on a Kinect that is optimized to detect gamers standing several feet away. In a blog post, Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, said the company is shortening the USB cable and adding a dongle so that multiple devices can tap into the same USB port. Microsoft is also updating the firmware on the device to enable the depth camera on the Kinect to see objects as close as 50 centimeters away.
"'Near Mode' will enable a whole new class of 'close up' applications, beyond the living room scenarios for Kinect for Xbox 360," Eisler wrote.
Kinect hackers seemed to catch Microsoft off-guard when they began experimenting with the device. But by April, Microsoft began reaching out to them, announcing plans at its MIX11 developers conference to create a software development kit for the device. The company underscored the effort at the show by rigging a lounge chair with wheels, wiring, and a Kinect, giving loungers the ability to "drive" the chair with hand gestures.
In June, Microsoft released a noncommercial version of the SDK. Last month, Microsoft announced plans to offer a commercial version of the SDK early next year. In his blog post, Eisler noted that those who opt for the commercial license will get "ongoing updates in both speech and human tracking" as well as "fully supported Kinect hardware for Windows."
The software giant said the Kinect PC hardware will be available in early 2012 when the Kinect for Windows commercial program launches.
Updated at 4:15 p.m. PT to include details from Microsoft regarding the release date for the device.