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Kinect and the Power of Big Broadband

Whichever way you slice it, I am not much of a fan of Microsoft (s MSFT) products. Sure I like the Microsoft Office for Mac (s aapl), 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 (s nflx). 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 (s csco).  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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6 Responses to “Kinect and the Power of Big Broadband”

  1. Marrying internet with kinect is very valid and will be seen more in the coming year or so. I feel that instead of going straight to video based products there are other ways where dedicated b/w can be used for remote gesture-interaction based applications. Not to mention markets for these applications. I believe its more about which technology is disruptive, starts small, innovates and scales up to calibrate itself withing the boundaries of the broadband that could be a game changer.

    The question is, who’s willing to put their money on it

  2. For the millions of people who use the 240 million copies of, just, Windows 7 sold, Redmond-based products make much of an impact in their daily lives. What’s a Mac?

  3. om,
    my argument is that innovation follows bandwidth, new creations, apps, opportunities, emerge with bandwidth growth.
    however, the carriers want to tax broadband and restrict it’s use, rather than innovate, blow out huge pipes, FTTH, and actually add value to their products, they just make America less competitive… operationally.. if they want to be a utility, then they should be restricted in their rights, as one….. this is a corollary of net neutrality, the citizens own the bandwidth, but the gov grants licenses which don’t mandate protecting the interests of the common good….. what good is LTE if caps are locked in everywhere.. just saying….

  4. It’s kinnected via a USB cable, and the theoretical bandwidth of USB 2.0 is only 60MB/s, so I’m not sure how they generate 1.5GB/s of sensor data.

    I agree though that the kinect is totally awesome and it opens up so many possibilities. For now I don’t see how it would require any more bandwidth because it’s synthesizing 3-D models from 2-D sensors, and the 2-D sensor generates as much data as video. Future generations may well produce 3 dimensions of sensor data for better accuracy though, and that will surely require a fatter pipe.

  5. A lot of focus (and maybe rightly so) is on getting mobile speeds to reach the speed of DSL and Cable. Technologies like these, at some point in the future, will hopefully drive new investments in big broadband. At this point, the fastest DSL available to me chokes with two incoming video streams (Netflix and ESPN3).

  6. Thankfully Microsoft is realizing the potential of these efforts beyond Xbox and refraining from C&D letters for using Kinect beyond gaming–showing the need for larger pipes is just one of the benefits.