Kinect is a motion-sensing input device that responds to full body movements - no remote required - as well as gestures and vocal commands.
It made a great add-on to the firm's popular Xbox 360 game unit. Indeed, it turned the gaming world upside down two years ago, immediately expanding the appeal of gaming to dancers, athletes, and even the elderly. (Kinect is a verifiable nursing home hit.)
Yet it soon became clear that it was to become much, much more than that.
The motion-sensing technology behind Kinect is breakthrough high tech. I predict it will have hundreds of applications that could be worth billions to investors.
Musicians could put on live concerts with a virtual "band" backing them up. Kids could learn to mimic the exact movements of their favorite sports stars.
Online shoppers could use a personal avatar that lets them virtually "try on" clothes before buying them. Stroke victims could receive physical therapy through their home PCs or their smart TVs.
With the gesture controls, surgeons could even access patient files, send alerts to other doctors, even pull down facts from the Web if needed - all without leaving the confines of a sterile environment.
As I see it, motion sensors will change the future of gaming, architecture, design, medicine, and much more...
No wonder hackers jumped on board in droves.
Almost before you could blink, these computer whizzes were writing and producing brand-new software to work with Kinect technology. Then they hooked up its sensor bar to PCs to try out all sorts of new games and business software.
Here's the thing. Microsoft failed to recognize how much impact Kinect could have on the future of computing.
After hearing about all these "hacks" to its product, the company has since announced several ways in which it intends to push Kinect sales, including releasing a version for Windows. (In fact, I detailed several of them in a recent article You can read it by clicking here.)
But that wasn't enough.
This fact remains clear - Microsoft is now in serious danger of getting left in the dust, at least from a technical standpoint.
That's because a hot new startup has just vaulted ahead of Microsoft in the race to take the motion-sensing world by storm.
Leap Motion: "Say Goodbye to Your Mouse and Keyboard" Don't worry if you never heard of Leap Motion. Even many of the most diehard gadget freaks have only learned about it in recent days.
There's a good reason this company is not on your radar.
Leap Motion wanted it that way.
The firm operated in what tech gurus like to call "stealth mode." That means it kept its mouth shut about its new entry in the market... until the timing was precisely right.
Just 10 days ago, Leap Motion unveiled The Leap.
It's a gesture-controlled mechanism about the size of an iPod that connects to any computer via the USB slot. This creates an eight-foot-cubed "interaction space" where you can precisely control your computer and any software with nuanced movements of your hands and fingers.
The Leap made a big splash with the tech traders, and you can't blame the trade press for falling in love with it. It isn't every day a firm launches a new product that senses full 3D motion, fits in the palm of your hand, and is 200 times sensitive and accurate than anything else on the market. The Leap can detect very subtle movements of a single finger in all three dimensions. It responds better than a touchscreen or a mouse and is just as reliable as a keyboard, the company says, with remarkably low latency (time delay).
Oh yeah, and get this. The Leap will sell for $70 starting early next year. No, that's not a misprint. You can soon get into the Next Big Thing in computing for less than the cost of dinner for two at an Outback Steakhouse.
Talk about radical change...
What was purely a sci-fi - emphasis on the "fiction" part - concept just a few years ago is now imminent. And cheap.
Now you know why Leap Motion secured $12.5 million in venture funding in early May. That brings the total raised so far to $14.55 million.
In my mind, there's no question Leap Motion will want to take the company public, though it's impossible to predict when that might occur.
But keep this mind: It has the backing of one of the more successful high-tech leaders of all time. His name is Marc Andreessen, and he is a bona fide tech investing genius. He recently made the cover of Wired magazine under the headline "The Man Who Makes the Future."
Just look at some of the great tech initiatives Andreessen has backed in the past 20 years.
It all began with Mosaic, an early Web browser this brilliant kid from the Midwest invented; it helped drive use of the Net beyond the realm of hobbies and science. Then came Netscape, the browser that brought the Web to the masses. Andreessen took the company public, and AOL later bought it for $4.2 billion. Since then, he's backed some of the biggest tech names today - Twitter, Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN), and Skype. He sits on the boards of eBay Inc. (NASDAQ:EBAY) and Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), too.
This guy is a true visionary.
And now his venture capital firm is a huge force behind Leap Motion.
So, put the company on your radar screen. Because you will be hearing more about it and in the days ahead.
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Tags: Microsoft, Nasdaq: MSFT