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Microsoft Wants to Kinect with Pentagon

Dec. 17, 2012 - 10:04AM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
Microsoft's Kinect gaming device, which detects a user's body motions, can be adapted for physical therapy for combat veterans.
Microsoft's Kinect gaming device, which detects a user's body motions, can be adapted for physical therapy for combat veterans. (Interknowlogy)
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Microsoft hopes its popular Kinect gaming accessory will score with veterans who need physical therapy.

The software behemoth has paired the Kinect with off-the-shelf software in a package that can be used by injured soldiers and veterans to perform physical therapy at home, without the need to visit a medical facility. Microsoft is working with the Air Force to define requirements for a Kinect therapy system and will discuss the technology with the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center.

“Microsoft is committing R&D and marketing resources to ensure that the [Defense Department] community is aware of the capabilities of the product, as well as the breadth of our partner community, which includes the system integrators,” said Phil West, Microsoft’s director of public sector solutions. “The targeted scenarios include therapy-related functions, but they also span training and simulation, interactive user interfaces, and so on.”

The Kinect is a gaming device that plugs into an Xbox 360 console or a PC. It has a camera that detects a user’s body motions, such as jumping up and down aerobically or swinging the arms as if holding a golf club, and translates those motions into commands that are copied on the computer screen by the user’s avatar.

This raises numerous possibilities for training and simulation, such as an Army Small Business Innovation Research contract earlier this year that sought proposals for a Kinect-based system to track the body movements of pilots to determine if they are focusing too long on a single display, for example.

Thus far, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, Army Medicine and the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine have expressed interest in the Kinect, as have Lockheed Martin, SAIC and CACI, according to Microsoft account executive Gary Danoff. Physical therapists have also found the Kinect useful for treating patients.

Kinect-based therapy offers several advantages. One is the convenience of home-based treatment, and consequently lower costs for maintaining medical facilities.

“Some folks may not have access to a [Veterans Affairs] facility just because they were reservists and may not live near an Army base,” West said.

Then there is the modest price tag of the Kinect itself; the PC-based version, which has better facial recognition than the Xbox model, costs about $200, plus a few hundred dollars for a computer (which many vets will already have). A military physical therapy Kinect uses the same off-the-shelf hardware and software civilians use, though that could change in the future.

“I could see the commercial market wanting to gather and track different ranges of movement for a wider range of age groups, whereas the military may elect to specialize a regimen based upon a soldier’s targeted service arena,” West said.

Setting up a PC-based Kinect, along with the ReMotion360 physical therapy software developed by Infostrat, an information technology firm in Washington, D.C., is fairly simple. After plugging the Kinect into the computer, users step back a few feet to let the Kinect camera capture their image. The picture then appears on the computer with a green stick-figure skeleton superimposed over it, and a white line to indicate the angles of limbs. When users successfully raise their arms to the desired range of motion — such as over their heads to an angle of 150 degrees — the white line turns blue.

Microsoft is also exploring the use of Kinect for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, where patients in different locations can connect for a group therapy session.

“They can use avatars, which allows anonymity, but also allows for representatives who are therapists or licensed psychiatrists to connect with them,” West said. “Therapists can say, ‘I know who you are because I have your case file. No one else in the room has to see in your face.’ It gives a way to engage and talk through problems while preserving anonymity.”

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