Can Microsoft’s Hands-Free Tech Succeed?

Can Microsoft’s Hands-Free Tech Succeed?

What comes to mind when you think of video gaming? A test of mind and reflexes? A journey into a land of impossibilities? Or just lounging on the couch after a hard day?

Microsoft wants you to associate the word “gaming” with “Kinect.” It wants you to associate a lot of gadgets with Kinect, actually.

For Kinect Creative Director Kudo Tsunoda, that would be a literal dream come true. “Think about a world where machines understand what people want from them. You can see that extrapolate out to a host of other devices.”

The November edition of Kotaku’s online magazine, K Monthly, talks to Microsoft’s director of the Kinect technology, Alex Kipman, about hands-free voice-based technology as pioneered by Microsoft.

“From a broad Microsoft perspective, we believe in a more natural way for people to interact with technology. People don’t like to hold gadgets in their hands, that includes keyboards and mice.

“The Kinect is the start of that journey.”

Is Kipman correct about people’s reservations against “hold[ing] gadgets?” It’s an unusual claim; Sony marketed its own motion controller, PlayStation Move, with campaigns that mock the empty-handed flailing of the average Kinect player. Games, according to Sony, require some degree of interactivity with a handheld object.

It’s hard to disagree with Sony. We’re tool-using mammals, and it seems that manipulating mice, keyboards, and game controllers are extensions of an ancestral desire to work with objects that help us achieve otherwise unattainable goals. TV remotes and game controllers let us achieve distraction and relaxation, the same way rock chisels and paints helped our ancestors express themselves. Reaching for a computer mouse has become a natural gesture that a two-year-old can pick up with ease. Does anybody who’s remotely familiar with computers cast a suspicious eye on the mouse and say, “Shoot, I hate this complicated thing–why can’t I just control my computer with voice commands?”

Going back to the aforementioned toddler who can use a mouse or poke at a controller but can’t pronounce “Xbox”–is the hands-free experience cut off from him or her until he or she builds up the necessary vocabulary?

There is a lot of merit to voice commands. Disabled users, for instance, might find them preferable to keyboards, though it’s debatable how engaging hands-free gaming will be for someone who’s differently-abled. Similarly, someone suffering from mild arthritis or tendonitis will immediately benefit if they can issue voice commands in lieu of using peripherals. Finally, let’s be honest: having a machine obey your command is just kind of cool, once you get over the embarrassment of speaking to a machine.

But Microsoft shouldn’t be in a rush to implement Kinect into every aspect of the technological world. It’s going to be hard enough to convince gamers that they don’t need to hang on to anything in order to do their thing.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. Hello my name is Lorraine and my daughter who is 25 yrs. old is totally disabled physically with quadrapalegia resulting in a devasting accident in her senior year of High School.I have been waiting for totally hands free technology for my daughter and was so elated by your article about microsoft on the cutting edge for disabled people like my daughter who now has her aides and nurses clicking her experience for her on her home computer! Voice is all she has to navigate anything!..she cannot move a finger..please keep me posted!! I would love some kind of games to be implemented for her to use herself..and not have to have someone elses hands do it for her…

  2. “Tool-using mammals”? Yes we are but I’m surprised people focus on that so much. Pick up any body language book and one of the first thing they’ll say is how many nonverbal signals we send subconsciously.
    In “what every body is saying” by Joe Navarro, he says that nonverbals are about 60 percent of interpersonal communication, which is why we still meet in person over teleconferencing. 60 percent that’s alot. Yes some of it is how we move our fingers and faces we make but a lot of it is also torso, shoulder and arm motions.
    How do you capture that with a handheld controller? I don’t think you can.

    Of course i don’t think many people have the skill to make good use of such data in a game right now, but the fact that it’s now available might change that.

Leave a Reply