On Monday, our Interactive Entertainment Group here at Microsoft released the next big thing for Xbox and Xbox Kinect. It’s called Avatar Kinect. Avatar Kinect is available with a Gold subscription to Xbox Live. With Avatar Kinect, your Kinect controller can scan your body and create a look-alike Avatar of you. You can then invite your friends to join in for a kind of group meeting in a virtual setting or “stage” where everybody (as their Avatar) can chat. Maybe this happens while you all watch a movie, or comment play by play during a sporting event. As you talk, raise your eyebrows, move your arms and legs, stand up or sit down, tilt your head from side to side, etc., your Avatar does the same thing on screen. You can even record your sessions and make them available for replay on line. The pictures below will give you a sense of how this works. Pretty cool, right? But why in the world am I writing about this on HealthBlog?
Let me paint a few scenarios for you. First of all, there are currently about 35 million households with Xbox Live and that number has been growing. There are already more than 10 million households with a Kinect device. Of course today, Xbox is mainly for playing interactive video games or streaming movies. But what if there were other compelling reasons for having this equipment in your home? What if there were even more uses for every member of the family, young and old?
Every year, millions of people around the world participate in counseling sessions for weight loss, anxiety, depression, and other conditions. Every year, millions more people are asked to join groups to learn how to manage a chronic disease like diabetes, or kick a bad habit like smoking. Usually, you have to go somewhere to participate in one of these group activities. Some individuals might want the help, but they are uncomfortable talking about their problems in front of other people, or they feel a need to protect their personal identity.
Several months ago, I worked with a team at Microsoft to envision possible applications for Xbox, Kinect, and Avatar Kinect beyond entertainment and gaming. As I looked at the technology, some of the first ideas that came into my mind were patient education, group counseling for physical and mental disorders, chronic condition management programs, and possible solutions for social isolation. Based on some of my ideas, the team I was working with actually developed a demo of Avatar Kinect being used for diabetes counseling. That demo has been shown at several industry conferences the past few months.
Keep in mind that the vision I’m painting for Avatar Kinect in health isn’t something that Microsoft is likely to deliver. However, the platform and technology are fully capable of making that vision, and a whole lot more, a reality. It takes market timing, the right business models, and an ecosystem of the right partners to actualize such a vision. But I have every confidence that vision, along with other capabilities of the platform I’m not yet revealing, will come to be in the years ahead. That is what makes working at Microsoft such a privilege. There’s an opportunity out there for all of you who work in the development community, health, and healthcare to bring these visions to life. Who among you will “be what’s next”?
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft