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A Kinect app lets auto show attendees get inside Nissan's redesigned Pathfinder
Tom Smith, chief marketing manager for Nissan North America, planned to unveil the redesigned Pathfinder at the Chicago Auto Show in February. His problem: Although much of the allure of the new Pathfinder is in its upgraded interior, Smith didn't have the whole car to show off, just a fiberglass shell.
So he turned to Microsoft Kinect, a motion- and voice-sensing device originally meant as an add-on for the Xbox gaming console. In February, Microsoft (MSFT) released a version that works with Windows PCs, as well as tools to help developers create apps for it. Nissan used the $250 device to create a virtual tour of the Pathfinder. Car fans step in front of a Kinect, which tracks their head movements using sensors that gauge distance and recognize objects. A large screen nearby displays what they would see if they were sitting in the car. Look up, and there are the dual moon roofs; look down to check out the legroom. It truly is a game-changer, says Smith, adding that Nissan plans to use the demos at its dealerships ahead of the car's fall arrival.
The original Kinect helped make the Xbox 360 last year's bestselling game console; Microsoft has sold more than 18 million Kinects since November 2010. It's also inspired tinkerers to put the device to unanticipated uses, such as guiding robots and doing 3D modeling.
Almost 350 companies are working with Microsoft on custom Kinect applications, says Craig Eisler, the general manager of Kinect for Windows. The device is being used in a variety of work settings, from Boeing (BA) sales offices, where it enables virtual tours for 737 customers, to a hospital in Canada, where surgeons use its gesture-recognition ability to swipe through CT scans without the risk of touching germs on a keyboard or mouse.
Like Nissan, some of the earliest experimenters are big brands. In mid-March, Bloomingdale's will install a pod-like dressing room in its Century City store in Los Angeles, California. Built by Bodymetrics, the pod houses eight Kinect devices arranged in a circle, which will scan a customer's physique, take measurements, and recommend a pair of jeans.