Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

Summary: Microsoft execs have been talking up Avatar Kinect -- the ability to conduct virtual meetings among avatars using the Kinect sensor -- for months. Finally, the release date for the technology seems close at hand.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Microsoft execs have been talking up Avatar Kinect -- the ability to conduct virtual meetings among avatars using the Kinect sensor -- for months.

The concept, which Microsoft originally shared in the fall of 2010 when its officials talked up the idea of holding virtual meetings using the company's Lync unified communications technology, is a little creepy at first. Instead of using a Webcam image of yourself, you use an avatar to interact with others in a multi-participant conversation over the Web. It's probably not as weird to gamers as it might be to enterprise users. But that's a big part of the potential audience Microsoft sees for the technology.

To demonstrate how Avatar Kinect can work in a business setting, Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie conducted an interview on July 15 with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo using Avatar Kinect. (Having done a couple of interviews with Bartiromo myself in the past, I think the avatar approach would be my preferred interaction method with her.)

Microsoft officials touted Avatar Kinect at the Consumer Electronics Show in January this year. The technology was expected to go final this past spring. Now rumors have it that Avatar Kinect could finally launch next week.

Microsoft Research has done some investigative work around avatar realism. The findings? Avatars should be somewhat real, but not too real, in the workplace setting. And if you're wondering why Microsoft is advocating avatars over real-time live webcam images for chat, it's largely about the bandwidth savings.

Topic: Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Cartoons in business?

    Ok, 'avatars' if you insist, but didn't MS already try this with BOB, then Clippy?<br> <br>I just can't imagine any professional company actually using this - arguing that it saves bandwidth is like apologising for your company having a basic ADSL connection. <br><br>I know MS have Kinect and trying find some use it for something other than games, but trying to talk to a client about there billing systems & suggesting we meet up in a cartoon, game-like environment would be as silly as suggesting a conference call via Playstation Home or Second Life; it gains nothing but embarrassment

    (though I guess it does give a reason to have Kinect kit on the expense account).
    • I think it is going to be huge ...


      ... in both the consumer and business markets. It gives people some amount of anonymity, while allowing them to visually interact with others. Also given the fact it saves on bandwidth, a lot of businesses will take advantage of the savings, and make it the preferred way of doing teleconferencing.
      P. Douglas
  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

    Where do you get business from? Its for the Xbox 360...its for the consumer. Have you been living under a rock the last few years? Avatar Kinect is a new form of social networking for the younger demographic...everyone likes to discuss these days...most of the time its about nothing, but people still love to do it. Avatar Kinect is to video chat as texting is to phone calls. It allows you to be you on screen in a video chat without actually being you.
    • For xbox gamers and biz users

      Hi. Microsoft has talked up using Avatar Kinect for businesses also. When I've asked about it, they've said they foresee combining the Kinect system with Lync. I know it's for Xbox/home users first, but MS also sees business usage scenarios (hence this CNBC interview using it). I'll be interested to see what MS does with Skype and Avatar Kinect, too. Thanks. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

        @Mary Jo Foley - I think timotim is touting the business possibilities by emphasizing that much business comes from social interaction. I agree that's fertile ground, but also think the avatar approach could make for more fluid teleconference experiences. Knowing who's talking, adding emphasis through gestures, and being able to quickly point at on-screen illustrations would all be excellent enhancements for software like Webex or Live Meeting, and the low bandwidth of avatars should scale better than video, especially between distant cities like Minneapolis and Bangalore. It still looks clunky at the moment, but give it a few years and I think it'll catch up to video game avatar quality and responsiveness.
  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

    Since I spend a lot of time interacting with avatars in variou games, predominantly WoW, I think it's a great idea.

    Can I use my Druid and shapeshift into a bear, moonkin or kittycat depending on my mood? ;-)
  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

    Compairing it to "Surrogates" Movie is more subtle than to "Avatar"
    • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

      @pranavq212 Er, maybe you should just get a better vocabulary? Avatars existed years before the movie Avatar did.
  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

    Will this require a firmware upgrade to Kinect to make it more sensitive and accurate? Or, will the original firmware work?
  • Finally, the last bit of humanity is shed from the meeting process

    Did anyone see the Bruce Willis SciFi film titled SURROGATES? It was about a not too distant future where people used the real world physical equivalent of Internet avatars, to live in the real world. The user sat at home in a device that let them remotely control their SURROGATE or real world avatar and experience life thru that machine.

    While this has clear benefits when it comes to going to dangerous places do we really want to find ways to remove the human element with interactions between people?

    I love tech and SciFi future tech as much as the next pro-future tech enthusiast but anything that works towards removing or decrease of interaction among humans just does not sound like a good idea to me. Its one thing to do something like this because it uses less resources to send the image of an avatar then the video of a real person but I don?t believe that?s the case here.

      @BlueCollarCritic -- I haven't seen Surrogates, but I think the CAPRICA series (prequel for Battlestar Galactica) is fascinatingly relevant, as it delves deeply into the psychology of avatar-based culture, and its impact it on reality. Of course, eventually the Cylons grow sentient and destroy humanity, but that's still at least a few years away for us. :-)
  • cute

    I'm pretty sure this will worked well for something like facebook or any forum that people prefer to be anonymous like commenters of news articles. Maybe in discussion forums with abused victims of crimes etc.

    As for business, I expect they would use it for tech support. Companies have been trying to hide the fact that your support technician is from india so I doubt they would want an indian person's face plastered on your screen when you video call for support.
    I'm not saying I'm for it just that I'm pretty sure there are plenty of applications.
  • I think I would prefer to manipulate my avatar

    via a Bree Dolly, whence one could bi-win in the post-modern, post-industrial, carbon free Bree way... AAAAHHH! a BREEWAY - the new voodoo for the neuromancer... I just coigned a new 'un. YAY!
    Anyways, all this kinect shizzle just makes my arums tired.
  • if the person communicating is more inportant than the product being

    discussed, i suppose there might be a valid reason for this device.
    but if the object of discussion is physical and needs presentation, this tech. is not the best fit, or any fit really.
    for me, the cost of the system would not be worth the potential savings when the object of discussion cannot be shared.
    sorry, no sale.

  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

    This has a lot of interesting applications people have not mentioned. Counciling for shut-ins. Exercising and rehab for amputees or similarly disfigured persons. Diplomacy between people who don't like each other very much. Various kinds of military applications, training, etc.
  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

    There are a lot of interesting and valid possibilities. Counseling for shut-ins. Rehab for people who are amputees or similarly disfigured. Diplomatic chats between groups of people who dislike each other's cultures. Military training.
  • RE: Microsoft shows off Avatar Kinect shortly before expected release

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