Enterprising hackers have been doing interesting things with Kinect on the PC for quite some time now. At the MIX11 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft finally got in on the action with a Kinect PC demo of its own. The demo showed Kinect being used to control Microsoft Research's WorldWide Telescope, which is a pretty neat trick. There's also word that an official SDK is coming to Windows later this spring.
The spring release may just be a beta, but Microsoft Research has published numerous details on what PC users can expect from the software development kit. Programmers will be able to tap into "robust skeletal tracking capabilities" precise enough to keep tabs on two people at the same time. The raw audio and image data collected by the Kinect hardware will be fully available, and the system is smart enough to determine the spatial orgin of sounds it records. Visual data is gathered by Kinect's 3D camera, while audio is handled by a "four-element microphone array" armed with noise and echo cancellation.
Hackers have done some truly incredible things with Kinect since it was released for the Xbox 360. An official SDK will no doubt encourage even more development on the PC, although Microsoft notes that the kit is "intended" for experimentation and non-commercial use. It's unclear whether that intention would prevent developers from selling software created with the kit.
Early results from our latest poll suggest that only a small minority of folks expect motion controls to be the predominant computer pointing and selection mechanism a decade from now. Like speech recognition, motion control strikes me as too imprecise for a primary input mechanism. However, those input methods have loads of potential for complementary roles, and Kinect neatly wraps up both of them in a single device.