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Microsoft's Craig Mundie showing an Avatar Kinect prototype at the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle today.

As Microsoft looks to take its Kinect sensor beyond video games into mainstream computing, a top company executive today provided a glimpse of one direction the initiative could take.

Look out health care, the avatars are coming.

The prototype health-care application shown today by Microsoft research and strategy chief Craig Mundie was an adaptation of the “Avatar Kinect” virtual conferencing technology due out soon for the Xbox 360 game console.

The technology uses the Kinect’s motion sensor, camera and microphone to create cartoon-style representations of people that can interact with one another in a virtual space, with realistic facial expressions and motions — controlled in real time through natural movement and speech.

One advantage over traditional video-conferencing is that people can go back afterward and look at the computerized scene from different views and angles, rather than just focusing on the person speaking.

In his health-care demonstration, Mundie showed the hypothetical example of a support group for people with diabetes, meeting virtually using the technology. By replaying the scene and focusing on a different part of the room, a health-care worker could see that one of the patients was struggling with something, based on in the emotions and body language expressed by her avatar.

“If you get the animation of the eyes, eyebrows, face and mouth nominally correct, most of the major human emotions are accurately portrayed. You get a huge amount of cues even though you’re looking at their cartoon characters.”

Mundie showed the prototype as part of a broader discussion at the Pacific Health Summit in Seattle, which has drawn global health leaders from around the world to the city this week. Mundie, who often shows technologies and concepts that are years down the road, didn’t refer to any specific plans to bring the health-care application to market.

One additional tidbit for Xbox 360 users: Mundie noted as part of his presentation that the initial Avatar Kinect video-conferencing feature is due to be released for the game console within a few weeks. The technology was originally shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The Kinect sensor was released last fall for the game console, selling for $149.99. Microsoft last week released a software development kit that allows academic researchers and other non-commercial software developers to make Windows applications that use the Kinect device.

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