Q: I hear companies are hacking motion-based gaming technologies for new applications. How do I get in?
A: It's true -- gaming consoles have launched an industry that has nothing to do with play. The technologies at the heart of Nintendo's Wii U, Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360 and Sony's SOEmote are making motion capture (mocap), gesture recognition and facial rendering easy and cheap enough for entrepreneurs to hack and turn into wholly new businesses.
Toronto-based GestSure Technologies, for example, uses a Microsoft Kinect module to create touch-free medical operating room tools. And Los Angeles-based Styku uses the Kinect module to scan consumers' bodies and create a remote virtual fitting room where customers can "try on" clothes before making an online purchase. Nice fit, indeed.
To get the complete story on how low-cost mocap has sparked a startup blitz, we sat down with Marty Smets, an ergonomics simulation engineer at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich.
How does your company use MoCap?
At a car company like Ford, motion-sensing technologies are an integral part of the design and manufacturing process. It helps us anticipate things like how drivers will see speedometers. And it flags us on how workers must move to build cars safely. The process shaves something like eight to 14 months off a four-year vehicle-development time. That is major money.
How did this enterprise-level tech become a small-business opportunity?
Business-grade motion tracking was once strictly the stuff of $250,000 camera systems and pricey processing software found in special effects films like Avatar or at Ford. No more. The $150 Xbox Kinect uses a low-cost depth sensor and camera to "see" in three dimensions. When the Kinect and the Wii came online, developers began messing with them, creating hacks en masse and giving rise to sites such as KinectHacks.net. Soon the web was flooded with new mocap ideas.
It can't be that simple for a small biz to get into.
Actually it is. Microsoft recently released a formal, supported developer's kit for the Kinect. For about $250 anybody can buy the software and tools needed to build robust mocap services. All that's needed is the ability to program in basic computer languages--talent that can be found at any local college or technical school. To help advance the technology [startup accelerator] TechStars even launched a startup incubator specifically for Kinect-based ideas.
How does this market work?
Fortunately the game console manufacturers are taking their cues from Apple's success with courting small developers through the App Store. Apple provided the tool and then opened it up to app-makers and asked, "How clever are you?" And as we've seen, the sky's the limit in terms of imagination and potential moneymaking ideas.