Lauded by Guinness World Records as the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history, Microsoft Kinect requires little introduction. A combination of camera and motion-sensing hardware with some very smart software, the technology has obvious implications for gaming. However, the implications for IT management and systems administration remain unclear.
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Rumor has it that Kinect's professional career is about to begin. Screenshots of the forthcoming Windows 8 show a new Sensors control panel that contains a reference to Detect Human Presence. The HAL 9000 would be proud.
How might the combination of Kinect and Windows 8 revolutionize IT administration? Eight scenarios come to mind:
Revolution No. 1: Gesture-based NOC management. It may be possible to convert today's static network operations center (NOC) into a dynamic orchestra of alerts, notifications and status updates. Conducting that orchestra is an IT professional "maestro" waving gestures against wall-based computing technologies to manage it all. If a movie like Minority Report can dream it, IT can build it.
Revolution No. 2: Facial recognition as a security measure. Kinect's camera uses state-of-the-art facial recognition. That technology facilitates the whole-body user interface for Xbox 360 games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Michael Jackson: The Experience. It might also become useful as a secondary factor of authentication, adding the "something you are" biometrics to two-factor authentication's "something you have" and "something you know."
Revolution No. 3: Camera/logon integration. The same integration that serves as authentication automatically creates another very interesting future. The logons themselves are facilitated by simply sitting down. Internet rumors suggest that a new feature in Windows 8 called "My PC Knows Me" might allow the computer to detect a user as he approaches it, beginning the logon process as he sits down. Combining this automated logon and/or resume with fast user-switching could mean that the logon of the future requires little more than simply taking a seat.
Revolution No. 4: Rapid logon and logoff. These processes are relatively transparent for most knowledge workers. A subset of workers, however, requires extremely fast logons and logoffs to perform daily tasks. Doctors and other medical professionals are the classic use case, and an entire software market has developed to reduce the logon/logoff delay to near-zero.
Combining Kinect's facial recognition features with other logon technologies might be a boon to such specialized industries. For instance, a doctor would need to do little more than look at a screen to initiate the computer's user interface and continue performing medicine.
Revolution No. 5: Personalized alerting and messaging. The simple process of looking at a screen -- and the data interchange that might result -- introduces the notion that alerting and messaging itself could be enhanced by Kinect's integration with Windows 8.
Consider another future situation where kiosk-like systems are distributed throughout a company's location. Messages and alerts to individuals away from their desks could be made available semi-privately on public-area monitors. All a user needs to do is look at a monitor to have it display information pertinent to the individual. When a user looks away, the information disappears.
That's instant messaging anywhere. Using Kinect with Microsoft's unified communications platform might revolutionize the distribution of announcements, alerts and other messages through semi-private interface.
Revolution No. 6: Anywhere video conferencing. That same use case might also extend video conferencing to anywhere with a Kinect-enabled screen. After decades of promises that video conferencing will be the wave of the future, the technology is still rarely used. One limitation is arguably the user interface -- the steps required simply to get one initiated are often harder than just picking up the phone.
In a Kinect-enabled world, screens could initiate video conferences with little more than a look. Need to find your co-workers for your next meeting? Just look at the nearest screen and say their names.
Revolution No. 7: Tablet integration. The tablet design stands to benefit from Kinect's technology, particularly in expanding usage beyond simple touch-based computing. Right now, even the best tablets are mostly read-oriented devices. They're limited by the inherent lack of ergonomics that comes with touch computing. Augment that computing interface with a gesture-based user interface, and you dramatically expand the tablet's potential.
Revolution No. 8: Gesture-based authentication. This is another potential revolution in the authentication process. Keystroke combinations have long been a very hackable mechanism for asserting "something you know." As little more than two-dimensional strings of characters, a sufficiently powerful computer can easily apply computation to cracking. Now, consider applying that processing instead to recognizing three-dimensional series of gestures, personalized to the individual. With the right technologies, even gestures that are observed (such as someone seeing you "enter your password") might not be replicable by another human.
While some of these revolutions are attributed to Windows 8 development rumors, others are little more than pipe dreams. That said, changes to Windows 8's user interface, which Kinect will exploit, should open up Windows to a world of impressive applications.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Greg Shields is a partner and principal technologist at Concentrated Technology, an IT analysis and strategic consulting firm. Contact him at http://www.ConcentratedTech.com.