Kinect and the Power of Big Broadband

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Whichever way you slice it, I am not much of a fan of Microsoft products. Sure I like the Microsoft Office for Mac, but beyond that, I don’t think any Redmond-based products make much of an impact in my daily life. That was up until Microsoft introduced Kinect and its motion-capture technology that is in equal parts astounding, joyful and amazing.

To say I am besotted with it would be an understatement. Kinect, which on its own is pretty awesome, becomes even more powerful when it’s married to an Internet connection. The higher the speeds, the more the possibilities. Ironically, this seemingly fun technology is also showing us the need for bigger broadband pipes and the possibilities that raw speed can open up.

Today, many believe there isn’t much needed for pipes that go beyond 25 – 40 Mbps, contending that those speeds are good enough for surfing the web, Facebook-ing, Tweeting, emails and watching Netflix. If one has to understand why we need bigger pipes we need to think differently, and imagine new uses. As Albert Einstein once said: “The specific problems we face cannot be solved using the same patterns of thought that were used to create them.”

Tomorrow’s problems, and thus the opportunities are illustrated by some of the recent hacks around Kinect. Fredrik Ryden, a student at University of Washington developed a piece of software that allows Kinect to create 3-D maps of a patient’s body which can be used in tandem with force feedback technology and medical robots for surgeries.

“For robotics-assisted surgeries, the surgeon has no sense of touch right now,” said Howard Chizeck, UW professor of electrical engineering. “What we’re doing is using that sense of touch to give information to the surgeon, like ‘You don’t want to go here.’” “We could define basically a force field around, say, a liver,” said Chizeck. “If the surgeon got too close, he would run into that force field and it would protect the object he didn’t want to cut.” [The Daily]

This could also be used for remote surgeries, Chizeck contends, but broadband speeds would need to be faster in rural areas that might see the most benefit and most importantly, latency would have to be at 1 millisecond or less according to Cisco.  And Chizeck isn’t the only one who is excited. A team from MIT Media Lab has developed a new tool that makes it possible to use Kinect to stream holographic video.

Right now, the system takes data from Kinect, and using an off-the-shelf laptop, streams an image over an Internet connection which is decoded on the receiving machine using three commercial graphic processing units. Currently, the data is sent at a frame rate of 15 frames per second, but in the near future, it will hit 24 frames per second.

The set-up generates about 1.5 gigabytes of data per second, which means it needs a really fat brand pipe to transmit the information.  Given that you need a special holographic display, it would be a while before this technology becomes mainstream, but it does show you possibilities.

Kinect, also validates Einstein’s other astute observation– “Play is the highest form of research.”

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