Kyle Kesterson, founder and CEO of Freak’n Genius, waves his arms, making the animated character on the screen behind him move. Photo by Janet I. Tu/The Seattle Times
In a conference center room on Microsoft’s Redmond campus Thursday, the 11 companies chosen as the inaugural class of the Accelerator for Kinect program got to demonstrate their projects before media, venture capitalists and potential investors.
The array of projects was diverse, ranging from the ability to create 2-D animated videos in your living room by simply waving your arms to teaching stroke patients how to regain movement.
The 11 companies, from around the world, were selected from nearly 500 applicants to participate in the 3-month incubation program for startups with ideas for commercial applications using Kinect’s motion- and voice-sensing technologies. The program is run by Microsoft and TechStars.
The companies, which worked out of a Microsoft office on South Lake Union for three months, each receive an investment of $20,000, an Xbox development kit, the Windows Kinect software development kit, resources from BizSpark (Microsoft’s program to aid startups), technical training and support, and mentoring from entrepreneurs, investors and Microsoft executives.
“The connections we made both within the startup community and within Microsoft were invaluable,” said Clayton Weller, chief marketing officer for Freak ‘n Genius, a Seattle-based company whose Kinect Acclerator project allows people to animate characters using Kinect’s voice- and motion-capture technology.
It works like this: You choose from an array of animated characters and backgrounds, stand in front of the Kinect sensor in your home, then make some 2-D movements such as raising your arms or doing a dance move which animates the character on screen. The animation is recorded on video, which can then be shared instantly to, say, YouTube or Facebook.
You can send an animated Hershey’s Kiss on Valentine’s Day, for instance, to a friend, or maybe post a video of an animated gingerbread man during the winter holidays. The idea is to keep it simple for people to use.
Another Seattle start-up, IKKOS, is incorporating Kinect into its movement-training program. IKKOS works with athletes, training them to perform better.
It’s also teaming up with the Veterans Administration on a pilot project using its methods, and Kinect, to teach stroke patients how to regain movement. Patients at home, standing in front of a Kinect sensor, choose a series of exercises — for instance, marching in place. As they perform the exercise, the technology captures information such as how high off the ground the patient’s feet get, and relays that info to the doctor of physical therapist.
The idea is that this can help reach more patients in remote areas, be a more efficient and cost-effective way of conducting some physical therapy exercises, and allow therapists to see more patients.
The Accelerator for Kinect program began after Microsoft saw that people were developing uses for Kinect that the company hadn’t even thought of. (Kinect was developed as an accessory for the Xbox gaming console.)
Microsoft has dubbed that the “Kinect Effect,” and launched a program for established businesses to develop commercial applications for Kinect as well the one for startups.
Microsoft managers expected to get maybe 200 applications for the Accelerator for Kinect program. They got 500 applicants from some 60 countries.
“It validated something we suspected but now really saw: That people wanted to build business applications or consumer experiences on this platform,” said Michael Mott, general manager of Microsoft Studios.
The 11 companies chosen — from the U.S., Argentina, France, Germany and Canada — worked in Seattle from April to June.
Now, they’re hoping to show the results of their work to investors in the hopes of securing funding to grow their businesses.
Microsoft got some things out of the project it didn’t expect, Mott said. The mentors from the company “got to soak up some of that entrepreneurial energy and bring it to Redmond,” he said. And “the team working on the Kinect for Windows platform got to see their technology used in real time by the companies trying to build applications and experiences on it. It sped their insight into what was needed for the platform to be successful for us. That was an aha for us.”
Other companies demonstrating their projects Thursday include:
* GestSure Technologies, which allows surgeons to navigate MRI and CT scans in the operating room with simple arm gestures, preserving the sterile environment without the surgeon having to scrub out and scrub back in.
* Kimetric, which allows retail stores using Kinect sensors to track data about their shoppers, such as gender, height and emotions, allowing retailers to get aggregated data about their shoppers and what products sell well with whom.
* Jintronix, which uses Kinect to track a patient’s physical rehab movements and relay the information to the healthcare provider.
* Manctl, which is producing 3-D scanning software solutions based on Kinect for Windows. It could be used for game content production, 3-D modeling or 3-D printing.
* NConnex, which allows people with Kinect for Windows to scan rooms and then digitally put furniture in the rooms. Retailers would send images and data on their furniture to NConnex, allowing consumers to scan, say, their living room, then put the furniture in the rooms to get a 3-D look at their space before buying.
* Styku allows consumers to scan their body using Kinect, then try on a number of recommended clothing items from retailers.
* ubi interactive uses Kinect for Windows to turn any surface into a multi-touch screen.
* VOXON, which is developing open hardware reference designs and standards for volumetric 3-D movie capture and display.
* Zebcare, using Kinect for Windows, monitors the well-being of seniors using a method designed to be more private than video monitoring.
Information in this blog post published June 28, 2012, was corrected later that day. A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the program ran from March to May. It ran from April to June.