Avatar Kinect for Healthcare

While the developers are diving into the recently released Kinect SDK for PC after a slew of Kinect hacks since its launch, Microsoft Research has developed a great adaptation of Avatar Kinect for healthcare implementations.

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The concept prototype was demoed by Craig Mundie at Pacific Health Summit in Seattle last week. The goal of the Pacific Health Summit is to connect science, industry, and policy for a healthier world. Incidentally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a partner at the event.

Craig talked about the advances in technology that help drive revolutionary changes in healthcare around the world. He illustrated several examples from the healthcare industry that extend resources beyond the traditional health facilities and the ones that help analyze patient data. Microsoft has worked with the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. to undertake a study to uncover patterns in the data and calculate risk factors for patients from massive amounts of clinical data.

The futuristic prototype health-care application that Craig demoed is based on Avatar Kinect. Avatar Kinect is a soon-to-be released virtual conferencing technology for Xbox using Kinect’s motion sensor originally  shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011. Craig’s demo had a hypothetical example of a support group for people with diabetes, meeting virtually using the technology. Avatar Kinect allows you to create your cartoon-style representations of people with realistic facial expressions and motions controlled in real time through natural movement and speech.

Although the demo looked awesome, Craig Mundie did not divulge any dates or timelines to bring this product to the healthcare industry.

Hotmail is on a Roll with Updates

While we gasped at the awesomeness of the relaunched SkyDrive earlier this week, most of us have failed to notice the slew of updates to another product by the same business division at Microsoft. Hotmail has been releasing updates all through the month of June, some of which haven’t been even announced officially.Hotmail

While some of these have been feature additions, others have been nice user interface tweaks. The evident speed improvements are a result of some clever HTML5 programming. The team has clearly been inspired by Outlook and brings many features from Outlook/Outlook Web Access to Hotmail.

Navigation

Since a couple of weeks, the header on the Hotmail has changed to a header similar to SkyDrive. It has a consolidated menu for SkyDrive instead of the Photos and Office links.

Based on the user feedback, the Hotmail team has adjusted the Back button so that it now works more effectively, and attachments now get saved to email drafts. Also, users can recover some lost email through a new link in the Deleted folder.

Kip from liveside.net has also spotted a quick view Calendar in the left navigation pane. I haven’t had this update on my account as yet, and neither did most people that I checked with at the time of writing this post.

Right-click Menus

Hotmail has added more right-click action options this week inspired by Outlook. When you right-click a message in your inbox, a new menu appears allowing you to Reply, Reply all, or Forward the message. Hotmail already supports right-click actions like Mark as unread, Delete, Junk, Move, and View message source. This is a definite speed-booster for the daily email tasks.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Hotmail supports several keyboard shortcuts familiar to the Outlook users, such as Ctrl+N for a new message, and Ctrl+Enter to send a message. It also provides keyboard shortcuts that users who have switched from Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are already used to with the previous email service.

Personalization

While you could always customize individual email messages, now Hotmail allows you to set a set a default font and personal signature for all your email messages.

Message Pre-loading

Last week, an option appeared in Hotmail to allow message pre-loading that pre-loads messages and folders in order to make them load faster and speed up reading. The feature needs to be activated from the Hotmail options.

 

While most of these additions increase speed and productivity while using Hotmail, a few features on my wish-list still remain to be struck off.

  • If you’ve pinned Hotmail to your Windows 7 Taskbar, you receive a notification of a new mail. Unfortunately, there is no Messenger notification. While Facebook and Gmail change the browser title to notify a user of an incoming chat message, Hotmail has no such feature.
  • While Outlook saves conversation history from communicator, Hotmail doesn’t do that for Messenger. This is one Outlook feature I would really want to see come to this side.
  • More right-click options? Yay! However, I still find it natural to expect right-click action options on folders in the left navigation pane.
  • This is not a personal wish, but asking for no advertisements on Hotmail finds resonance across the web. The latest refresh of SkyDrive does away with ads, so there is hope.

Social Network Integration in Windows Makes Sense

Click a photo on your Windows Phone 7 device and with a tap you can share it with your Facebook friends or save it to Windows Live SkyDrive. In the People hub, check out updates of your friends on Facebook and Windows Live. In the upcoming release, Twitter will also be integrated natively  within the Windows Phone platform.

Clearly, the need to integrate social networking activity is a key design point in Windows Phone 7, and in most other mobile platforms and devices. This gives me a random thought, “Would a  stronger social network integration within Windows, maybe in Windows 8, make sense?”

social-networking

Imagine video from your laptop’s integrated webcam streaming live on Qik. Imagine photos from your Facebook or Flickr friends and their updates displaying on the desktop dynamically like Active Desktop in Windows XP. Imagine a Twitter mention notification coming to you as a traditional balloon notification onTaskbar. Of course, all this is possible with various applications on the desktop today. Windows has the biggest developer ecosystem, fuelled by the humongous number of users. Native functionality will make it seamless, and allow optimization of network and processor usage as well.

There can be two arguments to such functionality. These features might be overkill, might hamper productivity, and may not be preferred on enterprise desktops. Secondly, with this always on’ kind of social activity, security and privacy are of paramount importance.

Windows 8 attempts to come close, but with the underpinning of applications. Live Tiles on the redesigned Start screen on Windows 8 show constant updates from applications like weather information, social network updates, or unread email. Applets on the Start screen are programmed in HTML5 and JavaScript, and are essentially web pages. With the new Start screen, one-click access to social networks could be possible without firing up any application.

Although, the early previews of Windows 8 and the Start screen are impressive, lets see how it evolves over the traditional Windows approach. Also, Windows Live suite of applications are critical bridges between Windows and Windows Live web services and other social networks, and their next iteration will be something to look forward to.

An Innovative Education Initiative using Kinect

KinectEDucation is a community-driven initiative for developers, teachers, students, and other education stakeholders to promote the use of Kinect for Xbox360 for gesture-based applications for teaching in classrooms. The project aims to pioneer this new dimension of learning in education and invites the community for making contributions, whether it be an idea, code, suggestion, or anything else relevant to the use of Kinect in education.

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The project is a brainchild of Johnny Kissko, a leading expert at integrating innovative technology in existing learning environments. The project was inspired by KinectHacks with a vision of gesture-based learning applications in classrooms within the next few years.

As yet, FAAST, a free software developed by the Institute of Creative Technologies was recommended. The software allows anyone to develop Kinect-friendly applications by creating key bindings. Now that the official Kinect SDK (Software Development Kit) is available for PC, developers can develop their own applications for the PC and Xbox that employ Kinect’s gesture-based functionality and can transform learning in classrooms.

The project aims to take existing applications like Google Earth or calculator or even a piano and integrate them with Kinect. This would help develop and deliver gesture-based learning opportunities with the bank of software already in existence.

The project is open-source and involves the community for the benefit of public education. Integrating educational Kinect applications represents a blended classroom model, where innovative learning opportunities can be explored within the controlled setting demanded by the structure of public education. You can contribute to the community in several ways:

  • Download and post Kinect applications for education
  • Participate in forum discussions
  • Showcase real-life examples of Kinect in education

KinectEDucation

SkyDrive Refreshed with New Features and HTML5

Windows Live SkyDrive is the underdog of Microsoft’s Windows Live suite of web services and applications since it launched in 2007. While similar services like DropBox garner a lot of fans, an iCloud announcement from Cupertino gets favorable press. However, with 25GB free storage space offered and over 100 million users, I think SkyDrive deserves better.

Continue reading SkyDrive Refreshed with New Features and HTML5

EverNote Launches a Slick Windows Phone 7 App

While Evernote always had great apps across all mobile platforms, including Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7 users had to satiate the need with the mobile site or alternative third-party apps like Fasternote. Finally, Evernote has launched their Windows Phone 7 app.

Evernote for Windows Phone 7

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