Engadget is running a story about Oliver Kreylos, a lecturer and researcher at UC Davis. He was one of the earliest experimenters with open-source drivers for Microsoft's Kinect, and he's posted a video demonstration of his primary project: 3D telepresence. By placing two Kinects almost 180 degrees apart and facing each other, he's able to create a live 3D image of a remote participant in a teleconference, matted into a virtual set that looks like an office. Here's a video of the demonstration:
To navigate around and through the remote scene, he's using a Wiimote to move a virtual camera (the actual Kinects stay in fixed locations). The person in the remote location can see the location of the "camera" by donning 3D glasses.
The quality of the video is still somewhat lacking--the resolution of the Kinects is 640 x 480--and there's just so much live streaming data that you can push over a USB 2.0 interface. But, Kreylos did this with two $150 Kinects--everything else either already existed in his lab, or he could get it easily.
Cisco sells telepresence systems that are designed to make you feel that you're in the same room as the other person, at prices of $300,000 a system and up. They have less-expensive systems that are essentially minor variations on teleconferencing systems sold by many companies. If a developer at UC Davis could cobble together a 3D telepresence system using $300 worth of off-the-shelf hardware, how can a business justify $300,000 for a system that does something similar?
We've been waiting for Microsoft's "next great innovation" for years. Surface wasn't it, nor was Zune, and neither will it be Windows Phone 7. It looks like Kinect is the first truly game-changing (no pun intended) innovation from Microsoft in years. So, start thinking about what can be done with HD Kinects using USB 3.0 interfaces. This is the 3D future, folks--not Jeff Katzenberg rolling out endless inane 3D movies, but rather, individuals, businesses, schools and institutions integrating 3D into our everyday lives.