The University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (known as “RCAST” for short、thankfully!), in conjunction with Microsoft Japan, has launched trials of new a computer program that utilise Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows technology as a way for physically disabled people to communicate and interact with computers.

For the uninitiated, Kinect is a motion-sensing camera designed for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console and Windows PCs that tracks users’ body movements and is capable of recognising voice commands. The technology first became available for Xbox users just under two years ago, with Microsoft heralding a new age of gameplay where “you are the controller”, seeing users flapping around their living-rooms like maniacs to control their video games.

While games that utilise Kinect well have been few and far between, it would seem that the technology, once intended as a competitor to Nintendo’s popular Wii console, could soon be changing disabled people’s lives for the better.

As shown in the images below, the clever folks at RCAST have put together an incredible new piece of software, known as OAK (Observation and Access with Kinect), that allows severely disabled people to interact with computers.

The system is able to recognise both movement and depth of field, meaning that even users whose movement is heavily restricted could potentially operate a computer.

The Kinect unit’s camera has been optimized to focus on key areas of the user’s body, particularly the face, and, along with the use of voice recognition, allows users to communicate their intentions far more freely than before.

With the assistance of the DO-AT support group, the first wave of trials of the OAK system are currently underway across Japan, with physically disabled children invited to test out the new system and provide invaluable feedback for its improvement.

So, even though decent Kinect-controlled videogames remain thin on the ground and many game developers are becoming increasingly shy of utilising the device, it would seem that the technology still has the potential to do a lot of good.

And who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll all be controlling our computers with the flick of a wrist and the wave of a hand like Tom Cruise in Minority Report

Source: Gizmodo Japan / DO-AT