The development of open source drivers for Microsoft's Kinect motion-controller is already opening up new (if not entirely unpredictable) applications for the device. This example, developed by members of the Virtopsy research project at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland, is a functional prototype using Kinect that provides users with a hands-free way to review radiological images.

With software based on ofxKinect, libfreenect and open frameworks, the prototype uses a mix of voice control via a wireless headset and gesture control via the Kinect’s 3D video camera to control OsiriX, an image processing application specially designed for navigation and visualization of medical images. The user can switch modes using voice commands and then navigate the images – zooming in or out and moving the view through a 3D image – using one or two-handed gestures.

While the focus of the Virtopsy project is to make use of new technologies to replace standard autopsy with minimally invasive procedures, such a touch-free interface also has obvious benefits for surgeons needing to navigate medical images in a surgery environment. Gesture and voice controls would allow them to maintain sterility by doing away with the need to directly touch any keyboards, buttons, joysticks or touchscreens.

With news circulating that Microsoft is also working on a firmware update for Kinect that would quadruple the resolution of its 3D camera from 320x240 to 640x480 pixels, it seems inevitable that the device will find more and more uses beyond its gaming roots.