World of Warcraft isn't known for being an exercise aid. But the Kinect could change that - and become a tool for physical therapists as well.
Evan Suma, a computer scientist at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, took a Kinect and hooked it up to an ordinary computer keyboard. He then used the software written by an Israeli company that controls the Kinect as a base to translates gestures into specific keystrokes. His first project: World of Warcraft.
To translate the gestures, the user has to stand in front of the Kinect's motion sensor, holding his or her arms above the head. But once that is done it is ready to go.
Like a lot of online multiplayer role playing games, World of Warcraft's characters are controlled through the keyboard. But Suma said he wanted to experiment with adapting a keyboard to a system such as the Kinect.
Suma's system can be customized and used to map any set of gestures to any set of keystrokes. It's the customization that is the heart of the project, because one of Suma's research interests is rehabilitation. While World of Warcraft is a fun application, Suma says the real goal is to provide a tool for physical therapists, for example, to help patients exercise. In that case [rehabilitation] customizing is really important, he said, because each person will have different needs.
The software can be set up to have multiple files, each of which is designed for a different person. The way it could be used is to present a game environment - like a World of Warcraft, but without the fighting - and use it to help someone who has had a stroke to re-learn how to move correctly, or someone learn to balance after a severe injury.
And even in a game such as World of Warcraft there can be a lot of health benefits. Some people play the game for hours, Suma says, and a parent who is worried about their child not getting enough exercise could ask that they play the game without the keyboard for an hour, which would burn some calories at the very least.
Suma said he has been interested in virtual reality for many years, and that is how he got interested in gesture-based interfaces. He is also interested in open-source development. His software is available for download, and he plans to release the source code. With luck, he says, users will come up with good suggestions for improvements.
While the gesture controls can be adapted to any set of keystrokes, or even replace a mouse, Suma says such interfaces can't replace a traditional keyboard. One thing about 'The Minority Report' - type interface is that your arms would get tired, he said. You can't really hold your arm out for more than a few minutes. Anyone sitting at a desk trying to manipulate such an interface would probably tire quickly, he says.