3 Ways the Military Wants to Use Microsoft Kinect
What if a helicopter pilot could control his or her aircraft with the wave of an arm or a voice command? That’s one of the questions the U.S. military is asking Microsoft, which is working on a handful of ways to deploy Kinect-based technology to the front lines of war.
The U.S. military is experimenting with and has already been deploying the Kinect in a variety of roles, from integration in high-tech helicopters to medical rehabilitation.
Phil West, director of public sector solutions at Microsoft, told Mashable various ways that American fighting forces may benefit from the motion- and voice-detecting Kinect.
The U.S. Army has asked software developers to design a “gesture-sensitive helicopter,” according to West.
“Heads-Up Displays have been around for a while, but they’ve mostly been used for a helicopter to get information to the pilot,” West said. “Instead, a pilot’s voice can be used to pull up some relevant information on the screen. A pilot could say ‘fuel,’ for example, to be told exactly how much range his or her aircraft has left. Having the ability of something such as Kinect to do gesture-based systems checking could be revolutionary.”
West added that such technology, if developed, could eventually find its way to commercial aviation, including vastly upgraded black boxes. However, the idea is still in its very early stages.
“The goal right now is to say, ‘let’s discuss what we can do out of this and see if there’s a fit,’” said West. “And some, all or none of the military’s helicopters will get this.”
Microsoft also recently did a demo of an entirely speech-based aircraft navigation system, based on Microsoft Flight Simulator, for the U.S. Navy.
Kinect-based physical therapy is another military idea that’s a bit more down to Earth.
If a soldier returns home with a minor-to-moderate injury that requires physical therapy, some of that work can be done via a Kinect-based “game.” Soldiers’ remote rehabilitation sessions are captured by the Kinect, and the data is sent to physical therapists who can tell if the treatments are successful or if a patient is experiencing pain, indicated by facial gestures captured by the Kinect.
“When [some soliders] get home, their ability to get to a military hospital might not be convenient,” said West. “Some of the Surgeons General are interested in using Kinect for remote rehabilitation — how we can use Kinect to do some rehabilitation from home, and make it almost like a game.”
According to West, making rehab more like a video game makes soldiers more willing to do their recommended exercises.
“What we’ve found is that responses to this are very positive when you make it entertaining,” said West. “Even with a 30-year-old guy who’s a war hero, making rehab entertaining makes him much more likely to do it.”
Connecting With Home
With some field hospitals being equipped with Xboxes and Kinect devices for rehabilitation, it makes sense that the military would try to find some other uses for them while they’re sitting idle. Thus, they’re also used to make soldiers’ calls home more interactive. Troops can use Kinect to make video calls home, play games with their children or younger siblings and everything else an Xbox and Kinect can do.
“We figure if we’re going to deploy this technology for military healthcare, we might as well use it for this, too,” said West.
Xboxes and Kinects are already being deployed by the U.S. military to help soldiers keep in close contact with family and friends back home.
“We send a ton of Xboxes and Kinects to USO facilities that become traveling devices, while some get planted in the field,” said West. “We do what we can for them, no matter if they’re home or deployed.”