Various tech news sites are reporting the end of an era. Microsoft has ceased production of the Kinect device. The Kinect was introduced before Christmas in 2010 as a companion product for the Xbox 360. Its goal was to make the human body the interface to video games and eliminate hand-held controllers. It combined lasers, cameras and sophisticated firmware to determine the player's motion and gestures.
This Kinect device was memorable for a number of reasons:
- Since the demise of DVD drives, this was the first mass market device using a semiconductor laser diode(s)
- This was the first mass manufactured device using diffractive optics to generate a pattern. The diffractive optic is used to create a random pattern of infrared dots. The cameras look at the dots and interpret your movements.
- It used multiple Photonics technologies and required large scale manufacturing.
- The Kinect's volume incentivized laser diode manufactures to design and manufacture high power single mode lasers in the 830nm range. They applied their knowledge and methods learned from manufacturing high power single mode telecom 980nm to the lower wavelengths in the 8xxnm band. Previously only lower power lasers were available in this band. Now there are 250+mW lasers available at 830nm and other popular wavelengths
The technology innovation that Kinect inspired over the years is very impressive. I only wonder what unintended applications that Apple's iPhone X facial recognition technology will inspire. The iPhone X technology is based on low power vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSEL). The Verge website recently directly compared the iPhon X's facial recognition to a Microsoft Kinect. (link: https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2017/9/17/16315510/iphone-x-notch-kinect-apple-primesense-microsoft)
In addition to the dominant entertainment application, thousands of college and university students used the Microsoft Kinect SDK (Software Development Kit) as a learning platform. It introduced them to machine control in a very convenient way at a low price point. Students were are able to imbed gesture control into applications that Microsoft could have never foreseen. These included any number of virtual reality and augmented reality scenarios.
For the sake of transparency, Power Technology does make visible and infrared lasers used for machine vision.
While the general public appreciates the fun generated by the Kinect device, they will never appreciate evolutions in technology required to make the device a practical every day device. (And that's OK with us device manufacturers.)
RIP Microsoft Kinect. You were a giant among laser applications.