Walking the floor at Microsoft’s conference center in Redmond yesterday for the conclusion of the three-month Kinect Accelerator startup program, it was remarkable to see not just tech demos but full-fledged companies being built on the company’s Kinect sensor.

Nconnex uses Kinect to recreate a room on screen, letting people see how furniture would look and fit in their space.
  • A Los Angeles-based startup called Styku has struck a deal to pilot its Kinect-powered virtual fitting room technology with a major retailer, a key step toward a broader rollout.
  • Toronto-based GestSure Technologies, has just received U.S. clearance to start offering its Kinect-based, hands-free technology for surgeons in operating rooms.
  • Ikkos Training, based in Seattle, has developed a Kinect app for virtual physical therapy, to supplement traditional sessions. The sensor can count repetitions, among other features.
  • Nconnex, of Hadley, Mass., lets consumers scan a room with Kinect and insert virtual representations of furniture into the digital scene to see what it would look like in their space.
  • New York-based Voxon is using Kinect to give artists and cinematographers the ability to create volumetric 3D productions reminiscent of the famous Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars.
  • ZebCare, from Boston, is using the Kinect to let families check the status of independent seniors without invading their privacy, providing a blurred-out overhead view and analytics.

And those are just some of the examples — we saw more during an earlier tour of Microsoft’s South Lake Union offices. It’s easy to forget, less than two years ago, some of these same people were worried they might face the company in court instead.

Nicolas Burrus, one of the first Kinect hackers, now part of the Kinect Accelerator program.

“When we started hacking around, we felt a little illegal,” recalled Nicolas Burrus, who was one of the original Kinect hackers as the developer of the open-source RGBDemo toolkit for the Xbox 360 version of Kinect. “We were at the borderline of what we could do for something that was really designed for games.”

Burrus is one of the co-founders of Manctl, a startup based in Lyon, France, that has spent the past three months in Seattle as one of eleven companies in the Kinect Accelerator program, operated by Microsoft in conjunction with the TechStars incubator.

“When Microsoft decided to really embrace this movement and go with Kinect for Windows, and really help us go much further, we felt good about it, excited,” Burrus said. “Now it’s really amazing because we have access to the Kinect for Windows team, the Kinect hardware team, all the Microsoft people are helping us. It really feels like we are being recognized.”

TechStars and Microsoft were flooded with interest in the program after it was announced in November, receiving almost 500 applications and accommodating the demand by adding one more slot beyond the 10 they had originally planned. TechStars took minority equity stakes in the companies as part of the program, its traditional practice.

Each startup received $20,000 as part of the program, but Microsoft didn’t seek any equity.

“We want to see these companies go out and be true proof points on their own,” said Michael Mott, a Microsoft Studios general manager.

One of the additional benefits for Microsoft was the real-time feedback loop between the startups and the Kinect for Windows team, which was able to incorporate that feedback as they made updates to the Kinect software development kit.

Some of the startup founders who went through the Kinect Accelerator program said they are planning to remain in Seattle after the completion of the program to continue building their businesses here.

Having completed the Kinect Accelerator program, each of the eleven companies showed off its work to investors yesterday at the Demo Day, many of them seeking additional investments to fuel their next wave of growth.

David Cohen, the TechStars CEO, said during an interview with GeekWire that he was impressed enough with some of the startups to be considering additional investments of his own.

“It’s really interesting how one innovation can drive so much activity,” he said.

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  • Guest

    Microsoft has thrown down the walls around its Xbox garden and innovation has flowed in like a golden river. Thank you, Microsoft, for embracing the engineering spirit that continues to power innovation.

  • guest

    This is a good. But I was extremely surprised and disappointed that MS didn’t do more to make Kinect a centerpiece of W8. With Apple now synonymous in most consumer’s minds with both touch and voice, even though they didn’t invent either and actually entered both nearly a decade after MS, MS had an opportunity with W8 to try and win the next wave: gesture control. They even bought two (?) sensor companies that seemed to have the promise at least of scaling down the current tech and allowing it to perhaps be on-board a laptop or keyboard. But nada, except an SDK. Missed opportunity imo.

    • Guest

      Baby steps. Windows 8 is already attracting a lot of ignorant ridicule for its innovative user experience: customers are being asked to jettison the 17-year-old Start button in favor of a more fluid touchable interface, one which has infuriated those who favor the status quo. We would like to see Windows 8.5 or Windows 9 incorporate gesture control along with a few affordances to palliate those who have most vociferously declined to understand the Metro user experience of Windows 8.0.

      • universalguru

        Honestly, Windows 8 is already designed to utilize Kinect interaction (similar to a touch screen interface) and while the technology is almost there for mainstream dedicated use, it’s not quite ready for Fall 2012 when Windows 8 launches. Users won’t make Kinect their main form of interactivity until it becomes the most convenient option and/or drastically improves their quality of life. Start-ups like these will help make that happen though. There’s little doubt in my mind that at this rate the foundation of Kinect technology will evolve into one of the most important technological innovations in recent history.

  • http://www.facebook.com/flivni Felix Livni

    Great to see Microsoft support startups in this way. Seems obvious, but so often big companies get it wrong.

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