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Startups in the Kinect Accelerator program inside Microsoft

It’s a familiar scene in the startup world — an open floor plan, buzzing with activity, filled with startups cranking away on their next big ideas. But this is a Microsoft building in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, and every one of these fledgling companies is building its business around the Redmond company’s Kinect motion sensor as it moves beyond the Xbox 360 to Windows PCs.

A mentor meeting at the Kinect Accelerator program.

Welcome to the Kinect Accelerator, a collaboration between Microsoft and the Tech Stars startup incubator, bringing entrepreneurs from around the world to Seattle. For the eleven startups involved in the program, the clock is ticking toward Demo Day, set for June 28, when they’ll demonstrate their projects and pitch their businesses to a roomful of investors and journalists.

“They’re trying stuff that’s more on the bleeding edge of what’s possible, which is cool, because that’s what pushes technology and pushes ideas forward,” said Craig Eisler, general manager of the Kinect for Windows program.

The startups also provide a fast-feedback loop for the Kinect for Windows team, as the company prepares to release version 1.5 of its software development kit next week, with a series of improvements.

Here are a few of the highlights from GeekWire’s tour this afternoon.

Lex Youssef of Jintronix demos the company

Jintronix: This startup is using Kinect to create a home-based virtual reality solution for physical and cognitive rehabilitation, aiming to make therapy more accessible and affordable, particularly for people who live long distances from clinics.

The application leads patients through a series of therapeutic exercises, using the Kinect to translate the motion of their upper bodies and arms on to the screen. For example, one exercise requires them to track a particular pattern based on the objects on screen.

An associated web portal allows clinicians to track progress and assign activities to keep patients on track.

The company is from Montreal. Jintronix CEO Justin Tan was inspired to develop the technology after his father, a noted physician, suffered a stroke. Shawn Errunza, chief operating officer, and Lex Youssef, chief technology officer, demonstrated the technology during our tour.

Chao Zhang plays Angry Birds with his finger on a projected computer screen, using übi

übi interactive: What if every screen and surface could be touch-enabled? That’s the promise of übi’s Kinect application.

The startup’s technology lets users point the Kinect at a monitor or projected computer screen, and the sensor can then pick up the movements of hands and fingers with precise detail on top of the screen, replicating the effect of a mouse or a touch-sensitive screen.

The startup, from Munich, Germany, is targeting two scenarios to start — conference rooms and digital signage.

Team members Anup Chathoth and Chao Zhang demonstrated applications including a PowerPoint presentation, where the presenter was able to touch the projected screen to advance the slide; and Angry Birds projected on a wall and touch enabled.

Florencia Muther demonstrates the Kimetric retail system.

Kimetric: This startup, from Argentina, uses Kinect to give physical retail stores many of the same metrics as online stores. It uses Kinect to track customers (anonymously) to determine what catches their interest, and how they interact with items in the store.

During our tour today, team members showed how Kinect was able to identify gender, approximate age and other demographic characteristics of customers walking into a store. It then delivered aggregated data about shoppers’ behavior to retailers. It’s much the same way that online retailers monitor web analytics to get a sense for their customers’ activities.

The team includes brother and sister Florencia Muther (CFO) and Alejandro Muther Jr. (CEO), as well as Rodolfo Bogado (CTO).

Kimetric’s approach was inspired in part by a retailer in Argentina who predicted customer demand for various products based on the smudges left on the windows from people peering into the store.

Freak’n Genius: This Seattle-based startup is creating a way for anyone to use Kinect to control the speech and actions of an animated on-screen character in real-time.

Features include the ability to create a customized cartoon featuring different characters, completely under the control of the user’s voice and movements.

The startup is initially targeting the large user base of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console, aiming to release the game for the Kinect Fun Labs on Xbox Live, said Kyle Kesterson, who oversees the business and creative aspects of the startup. Windows is an option down the road, as the Kinect for Windows sensors become more common in homes.

Other Freak’n Genius team members are Clayton Weller (marketing and learning) and Dwayne Mercredi (product and technology).

Here’s a video from Microsoft providing an inside glimpse of the Kinect Accelerator program.

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