Microsoft’s Kinect Accelerator: The Real Scoop on the Lucky Few

Microsoft is building on the momentum of its one surefire consumer hit, the Xbox video-game system, by expanding its motion- and sound-sensing Kinect controller into fields far beyond gaming. That’s where the Kinect Accelerator comes into play—it’s a hybrid program that gives startups access to Microsoft technology and top-flight mentors, while running entrepreneurs through a version of the successful TechStars startup accelerator program, complete with seed-stage investment.

After going through some 500 applications from around the world, the Kinect Accelerator’s organizers have now released the list of 11 finalists who are kicking off the program today at a Microsoft office in Seattle’s bustling South Lake Union neighborhood.

Unfortunately, Microsoft only released the names and hometowns of the teams selected for the three-month program (they eventually added links to the companies’ websites). So I went ahead and tracked down as many as I could, in case anyone’s curious about what the teams are focusing on. It’s a pretty interesting array of industries, from consumer Web stuff to sports training and plenty of healthcare.

We’ll see if we can get the lowdown on the stealthier companies in the bunch as soon as possible.

Freak’n Genius, Seattle
This startup is headed by Kyle Kesterson, the designer and artist who was formerly part of the Seattle TechStars 2010 startup Giant Thinkwell. Freak’n Genius is developing a digital toolkit that would allow people to create animated videos. Users can choose from a bunch of characters and scenes, and use the Kinect’s body- and face-tracking to make them move around and speak on-screen. Here’s a demo/recruiting video—they’re still looking for another technical co-founder.

GestSure Technologies, Toronto
This team has developed a software program that allows surgeons to work with electronic images of a patient’s body while they’re still in the sterile operating room. Traditionally, if a surgeon needed to consult an X-ray or other image to get more information during surgery, they’d have to leave the sterile environment, go check it out on a regular computer, and then re-scrub and go back to work on the patient. GestSure says its technology “broke new ground as one of the original, most ingenious Microsoft Kinect ‘hacks.'” Here’s a video from a hospital in Toronto that has tested the system.

IKKOS, Seattle
Helping athletes train their brains by giving them detailed body-tracking images to study. It’s a little hard to decipher exactly how they do this, but Ikkos’ system apparently includes some goggles-type devices that play back motion-tracking videos, with the intent of getting the brain to incorporate precise movements quicker.

Jintronix, Montreal
Another medical application. Jintronix uses a pair of gloves and the Kinect’s motion-tracking system to help people with physical problems like strokes rebuild their motor control with a series of game-like exercises.

Manctl, Lyon, France
Manctl has several projects cooking based on Kinect, so it’s not entirely clear what they’ll be working on at the accelerator. But they all look pretty cool. The company’s initial product, called Skanect, allows users to layer actual images onto a 3D model of a room, creating a digital image. Video of that below—beware of the auto-playing bad music. It also is working on projects that would use the Kinect as a “mouse” for traditional computing, and a behind-the-scenes way to pipe Kinect data into other programs.

NConnex, Hadley, MA
Another 3D virtual-room idea, NConnex offers a product called KinPlace that focuses on letting consumers rearrange their home furnishings and try out virtual versions of new furniture before they commit to buying anything. On its website, NConnex says the Kinect Accelerator will let it “take KinPlace to the next level.”

Styku, Los Angeles
This company says it’s trying to flip the supply-and-demand equation on its head in the apparel sector by allowing consumers to design and order clothing for on-demand manufacturing. The Styku software scans a user’s body with the Kinect, and runs through fit and appearance options before ordering the garment to be made. The technology comes via a related company, Tukatech.

übi interactive, Munich
Ubi’s software blends gestures with projectors, which allows people to manipulate what ubi calls a “3D touchscreen,” putting an equivalent of a tablet or smartphone touchscreen interface on a wall or other surface.

VOXON, New York
This company’s product is called the “VoxieBox,” which it says is a more affordable way of delivering 3D images over a video display without the funky glasses (something known as “volumetric 3D”).

Zebcare, Boston
This company isn’t saying much about its approach, but it’s another healthcare-related play. On its website, Zebcare says it “develops novel solutions for a new model of healthcare: the prevention of severe injuries or accidents, before they occur.” The team is made up of a couple of former employees of McKinsey, the consulting company.

—Kimetric, Buenos Aires
This is the only company I couldn’t find any real trace of online. Microsoft lists it as being in the ever-frustrating “stealth mode.”

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