In the year since Microsoft launched Kinect for Xbox 360, the device has been adopted for a number of non-gaming uses, many of them in the healthcare field
“Falls lead to functional issues and other health problems, and can be a precursor to mortality,” said Rantz, a University of Missouri nursing professor. “My mom was a pretty classic case. It’s an age-old problem of aging. So much spins on this particular issue.” But what if technology could help prevent falls, and in some cases even prolong lives?
Rantz and her colleagues at the University of Missouri are researching just that, using Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 to measure and monitor subtle changes in the gait and movement of older people.
Using technology to measure the way people walk more completely and daily, rather than at bi-yearly doctor’s appointments, can give healthcare professionals a chance to intervene sooner.
Helping older people is just one of a growing number of healthcare applications for Kinect.
Doctors are using Kinect to help stroke patients regain movement. Surgeons are using it to access information without leaving the operating room and, in the process, sacrificing sterility. Healthcare workers are even using it to help with physical therapy and children with developmental disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“What we know about here at Microsoft is but a tiny fraction of what is actually going on,” said Bill Crounse, a medical doctor and Microsoft’s senior director of worldwide health, referring to medical uses of Kinect.
“Everywhere I go in the world – every hospital, college or public health organisation, people are already doing something with Kinect or they plan to.” Launched a year ago as a controller-free gaming device for Xbox, Kinect sold a world-record eight million devices in its first 60 days on the market.
This made it the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history, according to Guinness World Records.
Even as Kinect was enjoying unprecedented consumer success, the device was taking on another life of its own outside the living room as scientists, tinkerers, educators, hobbyists and healthcare workers started dreaming up and creating nongaming applications for the device.
Keen on encouraging the fast-growing wealth of non-gaming applications that have sprung up for Kinect, Microsoft released an academic and enthusiast software development kit for non-commercial projects last June and will release a similar kit for commercial uses.
Thus, the genesis of the so-called “Kinect effect” – a term coined in the hallways and conference rooms of Microsoft to describe the device’s increasingly widespread appeal and diversity of uses.
At the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading stroke patients are using Kinect for Xbox 360 as part of their rehabilitation. Doctors assign patients to play different Kinect games, depending on what kind of rehabilitation they have to do.
One patient who didn’t have much arm movement played Kinectimals, a game in which wild cats respond to being petted.
“The patient thought it was marvellous and we could actually see an improvement occurring, rather than the normal stretching and pulling a physiotherapist would do to the patient,” said Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the hospital.
Another patient had problems with standing and full-body movement.
“We had him bowling,” Sperrin said. “He was able to work on coordination between the twisting of his body and the movement of his hands, plus his eyes had to look at the screen rather than where his hands are. It’s been enormously beneficial to him.” Sperrin said Kinect is helping patients at the hospital, but also after they leave, explaining that many of them are using Kinect to continue their rehabilitation at home.
“It’s worked extremely well,” Sperrin said. “One of the reasons we like the way its developed, first of all it works for us off the shelf with no modifications at all, but it’s also good fun so people can take it home and continue their work with family and friends and of course children – everyone can help with this selfdirected improvement.” Though the hospital’s neurological rehabilitation team has had success with the consumer version of Kinect, Sperrin said he and his team are busy brainstorming ways the device can be adapted and developed more specifically for stroke rehabilitation.
Microsoft’s Crounse said the so-called Kinect effect in the device’s first year on the market is but a glimmer of what’s to come, especially when it comes to healthcare. As Microsoft continues to deepen Kinect’s technology, partners, researchers and even businesses will continue to find ways to adapt it for a veritable universe of healthcarerelated uses.
“The Kinect effect barely describes it. It’s like the Kinect explosion,” Crounse said. “In my decade at Microsoft I have never seen anything that we are doing generate as much excitement in the consumer community, nor have I seen such excitement in the clinical and research communities as I have about Kinect and how this technology can be applied in health and healthcare.”