Kinect interactive display invites charitable support


We’ve seen Kinect for Windows used in some amazing applications, from educational games to physical therapy to interactive shopping, but none has packed greater emotional appeal than the interactive display that debuted in Bristol, England, this autumn. The result of volunteer efforts by Andrew Spooner and Mike Taulty, both of Microsoft UK, the display uses Kinect for Windows technology to engage passersby and inform them about the needs of people in rural Africa—and, in the process, it encourages them to make a micro-loan to help finance small businesses in developing countries.

Spooner, whose wife works for Deki, a UK nonprofit that provides microfinance to entrepreneurs in underdeveloped African countries, came up with the idea. He enlisted his colleague Taulty, and together they created a mockup of an African store that is actually run by one of Deki’s loan recipients. The display was set up in the atrium of the Engine Shed, a hub for tech startups in Bristol, England, where its colorful graphics grab the attention of passersby, inviting them to take a quick quiz about the economic realities in developing countries like Uganda.

The interactive display is housed in a mockup of an African store that is actually run by one of Deki’s loan recipients.

The interactive display is housed in a mockup of an African store that is actually run by one of
Deki’s loan recipients.

That’s where Kinect for Windows comes into play. About six feet in front of the display are three large squares on the floor, marked A, X, and B. The user is instructed to stand on the center square (the one marked X). The virtual storekeeper then asks the user to choose answers A or B in response to a series of brief questions pertaining to economic conditions in rural Africa. The user indicates his or her answers by moving to either square A or B, and the ever-watchful Kinect sensor detects the response and provides appropriate feedback. The BBC ran the following report on the interactive display.

In reality, the correct answers are pretty obvious: the intent isn’t to actually test the user’s knowledge but rather to drive home some key facts about what it’s like to support a family in the developing world. For example, users learn that although women in Africa make up 60 percent of the rural workforce and produce 80 percent of the food, they receive only 10 percent of the region’s income. Or that households in the developing world spend up to 20 percent of their income on primary education.

The use of Kinect technology is key to engaging users, all of whom are busy tech entrepreneurs scurrying through the atrium on their way to somewhere else. Few would be likely to stop and spend a few minutes answering questions on a touchscreen display. But a simple game of hopscotch? That can get the attention of even the most harried would-be tech mogul.

The display highlights some key facts about what it’s like to support a family in the developing world.

The display highlights some key facts about what it’s like to support a family in the developing world.

The quiz game ends with one final question: “Do you want to find out how you can change a life?” Those who move to square A (that is, answer “yes”) are invited to submit their email address by SMS so that Deki can get in touch with them.

Deki has been delighted with the response to the Kinect-powered display, noting that both lending and website traffic have gone up since its launch. And the BBC news coverage provided a public relations bonanza for Deki and its mission to support entrepreneurs in developing countries.

It’s also worth noting that Spooner and Taulty donated their time under a Microsoft UK program that lets employees spend three days a year on charitable work.

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