Microsoft Kinect scrubs in to help surgeons operate and the blind see

The Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect has been put to its most imaginative use yet: saving lives.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect has been put to its most imaginative use yet, and it's no game: saving lives. Surgeons and scientists are using the motion-sensing games controller in medical procedures and research, helping surgeons operate and blind people see.

The sawbones at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital are firing up the Kinect in the operating theatre. No, they're not playing Operation while waiting for the anaesthetic to kick in, but actually using it to view and manipulate medical imaging.

Surgeons no longer have to leave the sterile area around the patient to view an image, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, cutting down on time spent scrubbing in and out and keeping them focused on the task at hand.

Instead of relying on assistants, doctors simply wave their hands in the air and the Kinect translates those movements to have scanners zoom in and out, giving them a clearer view of what's happening. Here's a video from Canada's Global News of the system in action.

It's not just surgeons using the Kinect to help conquer medical challenges. At the University of Konstanz, a team of Kinect hackers has taken a step closer to the VISOR worn by Star Trek's blind engineer Geordi La Forge.

The Navigational Aids for the Visually Impaired (NAVI) consists of a Kinect camera stuck on a hat and attached to a laptop, vibrating belt, and Bluetooth headset. The laptop, worn in a backpack, processes the Kinect's camera data and signals the wearer when to avoid obstacles by vibrating different sections of the belt or giving an audio signal in the headset.

Here's NAVI in action. Curiously, no mention is made of what the system does for your pinball-playing abilities.

As well as selling in record-breaking numbers, Kinect has captured the imagination of hackers, modders and experimentalists all over the world. So many super-cool hacks have made use of the motion-sensing technology, Microsoft has officially opened the code for users to come up with their own Kinect concoctions.