Two students have turned a Kinect camera into a navigation aid for visually impaired people.
Out of all the non-Xbox uses for Kinect, this one probably ranks amongst the most useful. In an effort to help visually impaired people navigate cluttered areas without crashing into anything, two students from Pennsylvania have turned one of Microsoft's depth-sensing cameras into a wearable belt which vibrates to warn the user of upcoming obstacles.
Created by Eric Berdinis and Jeff Kiske of the University of Pennsylvania, "Kinecthesia" is a modded Kinect which is attached to a belt with three different vibrating sections. As the wearer approaches obstacles, the Kinect will sense them and send vibrations through the relevant portion of the belt, letting the user know which the approximate location of whatever it is that's in their path. More detailed technical information about the device can be found on the students' blog.
Learning how to navigate after losing your sight is an arduous task which never really gets much easier. Navigating the outside world without some sort of aid is virtually impossible, and although Kinecthesia is still in its early stages, it does look like it could be useful in certain situations. How useful it would be on busy streets or in cramped spaces remains to be seen, however. It's also worth considering that while white canes and seeing-eye dogs are cumbersome, they do as much good in helping the visually impaired person navigate as they do in telling the surrounding population not to walk in front of the person using them. There's also the question of cost. Still, it'll be interesting to see where this goes in the future, as well as to think of all the other non-Kinectimals uses this clever camera might find for itself further down the line.