If you happen to be one of the millions of Xbox 360 owners who also owns a Kinect, you’re no doubt aware that the motion-sensitive, three-dimensional camera system lacks a solid stable of games that take advantage of its unique capabilities. Further, you’re also likely aware that the Kinect itself is a very cool piece of hardware. While Microsoft continues to struggle in its efforts to find a proper consumer niche for the device, it may have instead discovered an even more important use for the peripheral.
A newly-published DefenseNews report reveals that Microsoft has been in contact with the US military in the hopes that it might be able to utilize the Kinect both as a training tool for our troops and as a rehabilitation aid for those soldiers wounded in combat. DefenseNews claims that Microsoft and the United States Air Force are currently working together to “define requirements for a Kinect therapy system” that would use off the shelf software to rehabilitate injured soldiers without the need for these veterans to visit an actual medical facility, thus saving them and the government huge sums of money.
“Microsoft is committing R&D and marketing resources to ensure that the [military] community is aware of the capabilities of the product, as well as the breadth of our partner community, which includes the system integrators,” said Microsoft Senior Technology Architect Phil West. “The targeted scenarios include therapy-related functions, but they also span training and simulation, interactive user interfaces, and so on.”
As West points out, Microsoft believes the Kinect could have potential not only as a therapy tool, but as a low-level simulator that can aid in a soldier’s training. Given the Kinect’s relatively low cost — Amazon currently lists new Kinect units at a mere $100 — and the fact that you can grab one (or a dozen) by walking into any given electronics retailer, the device is, if nothing else, far more readily available than purpose-built simulators or human trainers. As a result, a number of government branches have expressed interest in the device, including the Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (more commonly known by its acronym, DARPA), and the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine, as well as many civilian companies with close government ties, such as Lockheed Martin.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, West believes the Kinect could even aid in the recuperation of soldiers afflicted with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “They can use avatars, which allows anonymity, but also allows for representatives who are therapists or licensed psychiatrists to connect with them,” West said. “Therapists can say, ‘I know who you are because I have your case file. No one else in the room has to see in your face.’ It gives a way to engage and talk through problems while preserving anonymity.”
Though we applaud Microsoft’s novel attempt to aid our troops with tech initially developed to fight the ongoing war against Nintendo and Sony, we doubt that the Kinect will see widespread use in the near future. Not because the idea is a bad one, but instead because the military requires intensely rigorous testing of all technology prior to unleashing it on the troops. There’s a reason why the M-16 assault rifle remained in service for four-plus decades, despite the introduction of numerous weapons with far more advanced feature sets. Then again, even if the government doesn’t end up deploying Kinect-based therapy tools or training simulators for another half decade at least by then the peripheral should be dirt cheap.