Microsoft kills Kinect, but healthcare users will carry on

By Jonah Comstock
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Microsoft is discontinuing the Kinect, its pioneering 3D motion-sensing camera. FastCo broke the news that the company will no longer manufacture the device, though it will support existing devices for the time being.

Though Kinect was a pioneer in the 3D motion-tracking space, other companies have stepped up in the meantime, and the technology has also been incorporated into platforms like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Apple’s new FaceID (Apple acquired Primesense, the company that built the underlying software for the original Kinect, in 2013).

Four years ago, the Kinect was the next hot technology that was going to disrupt healthcare. As MobiHealthNews wrote in a few articles and a paid report (cheekily titled “Kinect the Docs”), entrepreneurs saw potential for the technology in areas including physical therapy, as an interface for sterile environments like operating rooms, aging in place, and fitness.

Some of those companies have since exited the market. RespondWell, formerly known as Respondesign, was acquired by Zimmer Biomet. Several others have apparently shut down, including Home Team Therapy, BioGaming, and 5plus Therapy.

But many others have thrived in the space. MobiHealthNews reached out to some of those companies to ask how the shutdown of the Kinect would affect them. The answers were variations on a common theme: the companies were indebted to Microsoft for creating the category, but they’ve made preparations for this eventuality and are ready to pivot to other technologies.

“We are sad Microsoft is discontinuing the Microsoft Kinect, as it is a great device with huge potential,” Cosmin Mihau, CEO of MIRA Rehab, which uses the Kinect for physical therapy rehabilitation, told MobiHealthNews in an email. “Most of our clients are using the Kinect v2 and we'll continue developing new features for our clients that will take advantage of this device. However, we've built MIRA to function with other devices and we were already testing alternatives to allow upcoming clients to play their way to recovery, even after the Kinect is no longer available.”

Dr. Joe Smith, CEO of Reflexion Health, another digital physical therapy company, also said this would prompt a change for his company but not a devastating one.

“Yes, our initial configurations have employed the Kinect, and Microsoft has been good at keeping us aware of their plans as well as bulk buying opportunities to assure there will be no impact to our growth,” he wrote. “There are now a multitude of depth cameras on the market, and even more in development, many with form factors and performance characteristics that lend themselves better to our specific applications.”

GestSure is a company that uses motion-sensing technology to provide a sterile control interface for the operating room. CEO Jamie Tremaine said that the Kinect 2 is still the best tool for the job, but GestSure will make do.

“It will not really affect us as a number of suitable depth sensors have entered the market,” he wrote. “While the Kinect One (aka Kinect v2) is the best commodity Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensor on the market and the technology is generally superior to structured light solutions, structured light solutions are sufficiently competitive. The other major applications are scanning, and rehabilitation. Both of which are sufficiently well-served by competing structured light depth sensors.”

FastCo reported that Microsoft is killing the Kinect because it ultimately failed to take off in its primary market, as a video game controller. It’s unfortunate that those using the device in healthcare are caught in that crossfire, but heartening that the healthcare innovations fueled by 3D motion sensors will go on. The Kinect may be gone, but it will certainly leave a legacy.

Or, as Reflexion’s Dr. Smith wrote, “Microsoft is to be credited for providing a first, effective, and low-cost tool that has allowed us to jump-start a transformation in physical medicine and rehabilitation.”