What is Microsoft's Azure Kinect DK?

Microsoft's new motion-sensing device will help applications see and hear the world around them - and respond.

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What is Azure Kinect DK?
While the Kinect brand is best associated with a motion-sensing device for gaming, those days are behind it: Kinect is all about business now. The latest model is called the Azure Kinect Developer Kit (DK) and was unveiled at MWC 2019.

While it is based on the same fundamental concept — a device that can track motion and 'see' the world around it, the aim here is not games, but to build corporate applications that plug into Microsoft's cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) infrastructure. The new device incorporates a camera and other sensors in one unit that developers and businesses can use to create AI-powered applications — built on facial recognition, body tracking and other services — that can understand what is happening in the physical world and respond, if required.

What's inside an Azure Kinect?
The device contains a 1-MP time-of-flight depth sensor as used in a HoloLens 2, 7-mic array to enable far-field speech and sound capture, 12-MP RGB video camera for additional colour stream that's aligned to the depth stream, accelerometer and gyroscope, and external pins to synchronize sensor streams from multiple Kinect devices simultaneously, in a 103 x 39 x 126mm USB-connected device with a weight of 440g. These sensors can then be connected to Microsoft's computer vision and speech services via Azure in order to create applications that can measure the world around them and respond.

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Image: Microsoft

What sort of applications can Azure Kinect create?
Microsoft gives the example of healthcare tech company Ocuvera, which is using the technology to prevent patients from falling in hospitals. Every year in the US over one million hospital patients fall and 11,000 of those falls are fatal. The Azure Kinect system can spot if a fall is likely and have a nurse notified to get to patients before they fall.

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Microsoft suggests another use could be to improve and monitor athletic performance, and rehabilitate patients faster with real-time feedback based on data from the Body Tracking SDK that is coming soon. Capturing environments in 3D, for example, as part of a warehouse management system or in retail is another suggested use case. Microsoft's Azure cloud services, such as face tracking, and speech recognition, can also be used to create apps.

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Image: Microsoft

When is Azure Kinect available? 
The device is initially available in the US and China, the Azure Kinect DK for $399, and is due to ship by June 27, 2019. New SDKs will be available when the hardware begins shipping. Microsoft said the Sensor SDK is under development and new features are expected to be made available over time; the SDK will be open sourced to enable contributions from outside Microsoft.

Can you use it with you Xbox?
No — despite sharing a name and concept with the Kinect motion sensor previously sold with the Xbox, this a developer and business device and won't work with your console.

How does Azure Kinect DK differ from Kinect for Windows v2?
The Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit 2.0 is Microsoft's previous package to allow developers to create applications that support gesture and voice recognition, using Kinect sensor technology on computers running Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows Embedded Standard 8. Azure Kinect is about half the size of the previous technology with higher specs. Microsoft said differences between Azure Kinect and Kinect for Windows v2 will mean that any existing Kinect for Windows v2 applications will not work directly with Azure Kinect DK and will require porting.

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