Microsoft Gives Us a Glimpse of the Future of Gaming with Its Stunning and Uber-cool Illumiroom Project

Yesterday, during Samsung’s CES keynote, Microsoft’s Eric Rudder made a brief appearance to demonstrate Microsoft’s vision for extending computing interactions. Rudder, who is Microsoft’s Chief Technology Strategy Officer, revealed a Microsoft Research project called Illumiroom that takes advantage of surfaces around your display to augment and enhance your experience.

Illumiroom uses Kinect for Windows camera to scan your environment, and then uses a projector to project an extension of the image being displayed on the screen onto the walls and other surfaces. Illumiroom uses the appearance and the geometry of the room (captured by Kinect) to adapt the projected visuals in real-time without any need to custom pre-process the graphics. The most obvious application of this is gaming. However, this technology could find its way onto a lot of different segments. Microsoft has published a video that shows Illumiroom in action with games like Red Eclipse and Supertuxkart, and the effect is simply stunning. Illumiroom projects your gaming environment onto external surfaces in your room and provides an experience that is both immersive, engrossing, and uber-cool.

Microsoft has already patented the concept behind Illumiroom, and a is promising to publish the research paper at ACM CHI 2013.

Subsidized $99 Xbox 360 & Kinect Bundle Official

Last month we covered a story that Microsoft is expected to introduce a $99 Xbox 360 and Kinect on a 2 year contract. The details back then were that this will be an addition to Microsoft’s Xbox line up. Today, Microsoft confirmed that they are indeed bringing a bundle at the price but as of now it is just a Microsoft Store promotion.

The bundle comes with a 2 year Xbox LIVE Gold subscription at $15 a month contract and can only be purchased from a brick & mortar Microsoft Store. While this does seem like a lucrative deal at $15 a month and just $99 as upfront cost, the math suggests in the long run, you end up paying a little more. The current deal is in all likelihood a test run for a cheaper version of the next Xbox. It is quite clear that Microsoft wants everyone to own an Xbox 360 irrespective of them owning an iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac. The technology battle has moved to living room entertainment and compared to both Google and Apple, Microsoft has a huge lead. The details of the $99 Xbox & Kinect bundle are:

What a deal

How to redeem this offer

  • Sign up for 2 year subscription to Xbox Live Gold Membership* at $14.99 per month and receive a 4GB Xbox 360 with Kinect for $99.
  • Promotional offer (Microsoft may terminate this Offer at any time).
In case you wish to opt out of the contract, you can by paying an Early Termination Fee depending on when you decide to terminate the contract.

[Video] A Look Inside Microsoft’s Mustang

Back in September 2011 at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, Ryan Friedlinghaus of West Coast Customs joined Microsoft’s Jeff Sandquist to talk about a collaboration. Not a lot was said and many had forgotten about it till a few days ago. The secret project Microsoft and West Coast Customs were working on was packing Microsoft’s consumer products into a Ford Mustang.

The car was called Project Detroit and has 10 functions working on Microsoft technologies:

  • Windows Phone locate, unlock and start the car with an app on the phone. Also, watch live streams from the Kinect cameras fitted in the car to view the surroundings
  • Xbox 360 for gaming using the rear wind shield as a screen
  • Kinect to see what’s happening around
  • Windows 8 tablets to be used as a tablet and another to offer customized HUDs
  • Customizable car horns
  • Windows Azure to store real-time telemetry data such as speed

On the MSDN page, Microsoft has an interactive image to explain what’s inside the car. The information so far did not show us a lot about what’s inside the car unless you were able to watch the WWC episode on Discovery. Fortunately for those who couldn’t, Los Angeles Channel 5 (KTLA) caught up with Jeff Sandquist to show them what’s inside the car. Here’s the video showing the MicroStang’s features:

Kinect Makes Learning Fun With Sesame Street and National Geographic

Today, Microsoft introduced, as part of its “playful learning” initiative, the “Kinect Sesame Street TVexperience. It was announced at an event in New York, and appears to be scheduled to come out in the spring of next year. It is designed to be a truly interactive experience between children and the Sesame Street characters.

Sesame Street on Kinect

A motion-sensing camera allows the children to interact with the characters through the use of voice and gestures. Characters on screen will respond based on what the child is doing. For instance, Grover will be able to tell a child to throw coconuts and will respond based on how hard the child throws. In the video below, you can get a first-hand glance at some of the features to come.

The people of Sesame Street are excited about this, as well. Miles Ludwig, managing director of content innovation and Sesame Workshop, said, “Now kids will be able to have adventures with their Sesame Street friends and be a part of the adventure in a way that’s never been possible before. We’re very excited about this partnership with Microsoft that will capitalize on new technologies to bring altogether new kinds of educational and of course, entertaining experiences to families.”

National Geographic is joining in the fun too. “Kinect Nat Geo TV” will work in conjunction with Nat Geo WILD starting this spring. The Kinect will scan the room and transform it into a wildlife habitat. Children will interact with the room as if it were the wild outdoors. The Kinect even transforms their heads into animal heads onscreen. They can pretend to be foraging for food in the forest. Brad Dancer, senior vice president of digital media and research at the National Geographic Channel, said, “Because our programming is so information-rich we can only show so much, but Kinect Nat Geo TV’ offers the ability to go further than what the television show can do”. It’s truly interactive TV.

As a parent, I understand the concern many parents have about the amount of “screen” time kids have. As much as I love computers, I try to limit my kid’s exposure to the TV, internet, and video games. I strongly believe that children best learn through interaction with a parent. That being said, I like the idea behind games like this because they engage kids in more than just visual ways. Being prompted to move and respond physically will improve learning retention.

What do you think? Is this a passing fad or will interactive entertainment be the wave of the future?

Patent Shows Kinect Based Interactive Shopping Experience For You & Your Home

Last week before the sad news of Steve Jobs death, Microsoft announced their partnership with various living room content providers. Under the deal, Comcast, HBO and Verizon will start streaming content on the Xbox. With this news, I think it safe to call Xbox as the Windows of the living room. Unlike Google TV and Apple TV, the Xbox (with Kinect and Windows Phone) is a more complete platform for living room entertainment. Fun family games, hardcore gaming, music & movie streaming and cable—that’s the 360 degrees of multimedia and entertainment.

Kinect’s voice and gesture control along with the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone app to control the TV via Xbox brings the much needed interaction overhaul from the button remotes we’ve all be using for the past two decades. In a patent filing I came across, Microsoft plans to give shopping the Kinect treatment. A while back Microsoft showed avatars of a group of friends sitting together and streaming a video, the friends were all their houses. The patent application titled Motion-based interactive shopping experience brings these elements together and a user controlled avatar will be able to interact with objects in the virtual world, much like how playing a game on Kinect is.

The patent appliction as some very interesting possibilities:

You shopping for yourself by trying out the clothes and seeing how you’d:

If you like to shop with a friend, two users can shop together:

If you want to buy furniture, Kinect will re-create a 3D model of your room and show you how the furniture will look like in your room!

Patent application

Xbox 360 To Get Voice Control, Bing, YouTube, Tiles & Live TV

At their E3 keynote, Microsoft introduced a major update to the Xbox 360 dashboard. The update includes a new interface and deeper Kinect integration.

Metro UI

The dashboard now looks a lot more like Zune with tiles and navigation categories at the top. The Metro UI is now part of Windows 8 (tablet), Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox. The live tiles are updated with relevant information.

Bing

Microsoft’ s decision engine is slowly becoming an integral part of the company’s product portfolio. Bing is an important feature in Windows phone 7 and today  Microsoft  integrated Bing’s search capabilities in Xbox 360. The Bing interface on the Xbox is elegant and coupled with voice control, searching your catalog and the Internet looks fun.

With Bing, a user can search within apps like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Xbox  LIVE  Marketplace to find relevant entertainment content.

Voice Control

With Kinect integration, Microsoft has now enabled voice control throughout the Xbox. Voice commands can be used with Bing to search within apps for content.

Live TV and YouTube

Microsoft has promised subscription based TV services starting this fall in the US. Currently,  Microsoft  has partnered with Sky TV in the UK, FoxTel in Australia and Canal+ in France for live television in the respective countries. In addition to subscription based local TV content, Microsoft will be streaming martial fights under Ultimate Fighting Championship and feature some exclusive UFC videos.

Microsoft has been able to strike a deal with Google to bring YouTube to the Xbox 360. This allows users to access the huge  repertoire  of videos on the website using voice control in their living room. Looks like Google just lost a reason to sell Google TVs.

Miscellaneous

As spotted by Tom Warren, the dashboard update has an apps section with Marketplace. The apps are the currently available third party services integrated in Xbox. As the people at This Is My Next noticed, live TV has a tile named My DVR.

Images courtesy This Is My Next and Microsoft PR

Ubisoft Shows Jaw Dropping Kinect Integration In Tom Clancy

At Microsoft’s E3 keynote, game publisher Ubisoft showed Kinect integration with the next iteration of Tom Clancy Ghost Recon Future Soldier. When the demo started I was shuffling between twitter and refreshing the WWDC live blogs while playing the video on a separate screen. Then I gasped, my jaw dropped and I stayed glued while Ubisoft demonstrated some exciting Kinect integration features. What Ubisoft showed cannot be described in words but can only be enjoyed in video:

Playing with no controllers might get tiring but being able to configure guns by gestures is simply nerdgasmic. Ubisoft promised that future Tom Clancy versions will all have Kinect integration. Ghost Recon Future Soldier is expected to come out in 2012.

Google’s Gmail Motion April Fools’ Day Joke Turned Into Reality with Kinect

As we are aware, Google loves itself some April Fools gags. The more memorable pranks from Google include the likes of Pigeon Rank, Google Gulp, Gmail Paper, Google Topeka, CADIE, and Animal Translator. This year, the Gmail team announced the launch of Gmail Motion – a cutting edge technology that can use your computer’s built-in webcam and Google’s patented spatial tracking technology to detect your movements and translate them into actions for controlling Gmail.

To be honest, this wasn’t exactly a fresh idea. Opera Software had pulled off a similar trick a couple of years back with Face Gestures. In fact, noting the similarity between Face Gestures and Gmail Motion, Choose Opera joined in on the fun.

“For us, Google’s latest innovation was just an April Fools joke a few years back, so we are really impressed with them actually taking this to the market. We called our invention “Face Gestures”, but “Motion” is probably a better name for a product that is not only a joke”, says Jan Standal, the boss of Desktop Products here at Opera.
When Aleksander, our Face Gestures model, was asked about his opinion on Google Motion turning the kinesthetic technology into reality, his eyes welled with tears of joy and said: “I knew this day would come.”

Of course, both Opera and Google were just being being playful. However, the joke is now on Google. A few enterprising folks have turned Google’s April Fools’ joke into reality using Microsoft’s technology. In less than a day, the FAAST crew that brought us the WoW (World of Warcraft) keyboard emulator has cooked up a real-world Gmail Motion application for Kinect.

FAAST is calling their software SLOOW or Software Library Optimizing Obligatory Waving. Check out the video embedded below to see the salient features of Gmail Motion like opening an envelope to compose mail, and licking the stamp to send mail in action.

New Kinect Sensor Being Worked On, From The Inside

The Xbox Kinect accessory for the Xbox 360 changed Microsoft’s fortunes. The company suddenly got  recognized  as an innovative company and bagged quite a few awards for the Kinect. One of the factors responsible for Kinect’s success are the community projects. Microsoft has not sued any of the hackers unlike Sony and in fact released a SDK for developers to play around with the Kinect. But what’s next?

Knowing Microsoft, the next iteration is usually under discussions by the time a version ships out and I came across two job posting that clearly indicate that the next Kinect sensor is well underway and Microsoft is looking to change the guts. Here are  excerpts  from job postings:

The optical engineer will be responsible for designing and specifying interface requirements among opto-mechanical system, modules, and components […]

should have a working knowledge of radiometry, photometry, and optical testing, and apply these skills to identify critical to quality metrics for imaging and illumination systems.

[…] will also be responsible for qualification of injection molded lenses, accessory components, camera module, and solid state light sources.

Opto-mechanical systems are tiny mechanical circuits, much like the motors in the Kinect that follow you around. Another application:

responsibilities of this position are focused on specifying, designing, implementing and verifying subsystems in the sensor electrical design. This includes owning the part selections, schematic capture, PCB layout, BOM, and cost analysis of the subsystem design.

The subsystems include high speed busses (RGB, IR, USB, I2S), memory, audio/video interfaces, system clocking, power and thermal management, and misc. analog/digital circuitry.

This job application talks about the internal circuits of the Kinect.


8 Million Xbox Kinect Sold

The Steve Ballmer keynote at CES 2011 is underway right now, though it has not ended, here is some big news from Microsoft. Microsoft has sold over 8 million in the past two months, this after selling 1 million units in the first 10 days.

Xbox Kinect

This is definitely good news for Microsoft who were predicted to sell around 5 million units in 2010. Looks like gamers all around the world are really loving the Kinect and purchasing it in hordes.

Our staff writer Rajesh has his hands on the Kinect, and from what he tells me, he had a once in a life experience playing games with his dad on the Kinect. So Microsoft is definitely keeping it’s promise of bringing the family into the gaming scene.

Way to go Microsoft, you are getting quite a few things right starting with which was followed by and . Hopefully, Windows Phone 7 should take off too.