Microsoft idea: Kinect body scans could estimate age, automate parental controls

Diagrams from the Microsoft patent filing. (Credit: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Sorry, kid, but you’ve got the arms of a 12-year-old, and you’re not watching the Spice Channel tonight.

That’s the idea floated by Microsoft in a patent filing made public this week, proposing to use a 3D depth camera (such as the one in its Kinect sensor for Xbox 360) to digitally measure the proportions of a person’s body and estimate age based on the data, such as head width to shoulder width, and torso length to overall height. The system could then automatically restrict access to television shows, movies and video games accordingly, using ratings for each type of content.

It might sound like science fiction, but it’s actually not a huge stretch, given the detailed skeletal tracking that Kinect already uses to let people control games.

As described in the patent application, the approach would give parents a new advantage over their tech-savvy kids, many of whom can easily circumvent existing parental controls. But more than that, the technology could work dynamically — detecting when a kid enters the room, for example, and switching to more appropriate content.

What about adults with short arms or other seemingly childlike proportions? Don’t worry, there would be an override for someone with an administrator password, and no doubt there would be an option to disable the technology from the outset.

Inventors listed on the patent application include Aaron Kornblum, a lawyer who works as director of security policy for Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business; John Clavin, an Xbox intellectual property and licensing manager; and Gaelle Vialle, who previously worked as a group manager for the Xbox Live entertainment business.

The application was originally submitted in March 2010, and made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office yesterday. It’s still awaiting approval as a patent.

As with most of these things, there’s no indication that Microsoft actually plans to implement the technology publicly anytime soon, but it does provide a sense for the types of things they’re thinking about inside those buildings over in Redmond.

  • http://beingmanan.com/ Manan

    Did spot the patent and was half way writing about it when I came across this article http://bit.ly/nZJnFn that says it has been implemented.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Thanks, Manan. You should have kept writing! :) They’re in the same general area but actually two different approaches, and as far as I’ve seen, Microsoft hasn’t implemented what it’s describing in the patent application.

      The article you’re linking to is referring to the existing Kinect technology for logging users into the system, after identifying them based on facial recognition. Parents can control access to content based on user settings for a kid. http://www.xbox.com/en-US/kinect/privacyandonlinesafety#FamilySafety1

      The patent is about detecting (or estimating) age automatically, based on the proportions of the user’s body, and then having the system automatically restrict content based on the estimated age. This could happen independently of the login system or any manual settings in a user profile.

      Hope that helps. Great to finally meet you in Anaheim.

      Todd

      • http://beingmanan.com/ Manan

        Ah! That makes sense. Once I get my Kinect next week I’ll have a better grasp of what and how features are implemented and what’s not. It was amazing to meet you too, hopefully I get to attend more of these events!

  • Echell

    What if you are a dwarf?

  • Echell

    What if you are a dwarf?

  • Yellojello0

    who cares!

  • http://www.kinectforkids.com/ Praxx

    Todd,
    excellent find. I think parents will like this addition to Kinect for many reasons.
    I quoted your article on our Kinect for Kids community page.
    http://wp.me/p1cE8D-54