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Microsoft’s Kinect sensor has already expanded beyond the Xbox 360 to Windows PCs. Next stop? The car.

People will be able to interact with their cars using gestures, the system will know who they are using facial recognition, and advanced data mining will provide new insights into the state of our cars and how we use them.

That’s the plan for the future from Microsoft’s automotive technology group, according to a Microsoft job post spotted by blogger Long Zheng of istartedsomething.com. The post, seeking a software testing engineer, notes the progress Microsoft has made as the supplier of in-car technology for auto makers such as Ford, Fiat and Kia. The job post then presents this vision …

For the next generation of the Connected Car Platform, we plan to leverage the full power of the Microsoft ecosystem including Kinect, Windows 8, Windows Phone, Windows Live, Bing, Azure, and Tellme. The combination of rich local sensing, user identification, cloud access, and data mining will transform tomorrow’s cars from passive objects into intelligent assistants for both the driver and their passengers. The new Connected Car will know its riders, and will interact with them naturally via speech, gestures, and face tracking. It will learn their habits, and offer personalized contextual information and driving assists to get them to their destination as quickly and safely as possible. Through a growing catalogue of applications, it will inform and entertain them, and keep them connected with the people and information they care about. The possibilities are endless.

A fantastic dream or a whole new wave of distractions behind the wheel? Possibly both.

As noted by Zheng in his post, it’s not the first we’ve heard of Microsoft putting Kinect technology into a vehicle. The company’s Channel 9 developer group worked with West Coast Customs earlier this year to create a demo vehicle called “Project Detroit,”  a Mustang tricked out with every Microsoft technology imaginable.

Among the features: Kinect cameras in the tail lights, supplying a live video feed of the car’s surroundings.

Project Detroit’s front and rear Kinect cameras producing a live video feed of surrounding pedestrians and objects. When parked, the rear windshield serves as a screen for playing movies or video games from behind the car.
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