Microsoft Builds Team For New Kinect And - Maybe - Augmented-Reality Glasses

Two recent Microsoft job postings suggest that Microsoft is building a team to design what could be the next generation of its Kinect technology: the rumored “Fortaleza” augmented-reality glasses.

Kinect Incubators

In the first job listing, Microsoft claims that the “team that incubated Kinect” is designing a new consumer device, and is seeking a new director of electrical engineering to lead it.

“Microsoft is working on revolutionizing consumer electronic devices,” the listing states. “The team that incubated Kinect and profoundly changed the way people interact with technology is forming a product development team to change the world again! We are a growing team of experienced device product developers, working in a startup environment on redefining experiences by making technology disappear. We are developing ground-breaking hardware, software and experiences across computer vision, machine learning, human-computer interaction, image and video processing, networking and graphics. We will transform our ideas into reality through shipping a first-to-market product.”

The team will work within the Interactive Entertainment Business unit at Microsoft, led by ex-Electronic Arts exec Don Mattrick, and includes the development and marketing of Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, the Kinect, music and video services, TV and Mediaroom partners, and PC and mobile interactive entertainment.

Given another Microsoft job listing, the division will likely also include the Microsoft Surface tablet team as well.

The fact that Microsoft is building a next-generation Kinect device isn’t that much of a surprise; after all, the Guinness Book of World Records listed the motion-sensing peripheral as the fastest-selling consumer tech device ever - until the Apple iPad 2 bested it 15 days later. The combination of features Microsoft cites - hardware, software, computer vision, machine learning, et cetera - also lends itself to the Kinect peripheral.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft declined to comment. “We’re always looking for talented people to join the Interactive Entertainment Business to innovate now and in the future,” a spokeswoman said via email. “We don’t have any further comment on this or any other job posting.”

If Microsoft was working on a next-generation Kinect peripheral, it could be based on the “holodeck” patent it recently applied for, although there’s really nothing in the job listing that indicates that.

Small-Form-Factor Consumer Electronics?

A second key job listing at Microsoft would also seem to confirm the Kinect conclusion, especially since the mechanical engineer listing seeks someone experienced in designing small-form-factor consumer electronics. But wait: the candidate Microsoft is seeking for this position must also have experience in displays, batteries, antennas and acoustics. Only the latter is Kinect-specific, as the powered Kinect peripheral lacks a display or antenna.

Microsoft could be staffing up on more than one project, of course, or working on designing an integrated Kinect. Another scenario is that this mechanical engineer would be asked to work on a future revision of a Surface tablet, which would use a battery, antenna and display. Microsoft could also be working to integrate Kinect into notebook PCs, a future already envisioned by Intel.

Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said it's tough to read the tea leaves. "That's a tough one to speculate on since it's such a general description," he said of the job listing.

"Certainly Microsoft will continue to advance Kinect and it will probably develop related technologies. I expect the next Xbox console to have integrated Kinect hardware which will likely be more capable than today's Kinect, although this job position probably isn't related to that since it's very late in that product's development cycle."

But there’s another intriguing possibility, that Microsoft could be finally putting a team together to design the “Fortaleza” augmented-reality glasses.

“Fortaleza” Augmented-Reality Glasses

But there’s another intriguing possibility, that Microsoft could be finally putting a team together to design the “Fortaleza” augmented-reality glasses.

In June, a document titled XBox 720-9-24 Checkpoint Draft 1 was posted to Scribd, and later removed at the behest of the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, which has represented Microsoft in the past.

According to the document, the first generation of Fortaleza is a pair of Wi-Fi enabled glasses set to debut in 2014, with the rumored next-generation “Xbox 720.” The leaked slide appears to show a player in her living room “seeing” an imaginary desperado projected on her glasses. Future revisions would get 4G connectivity and a connection to the console to project movies and TV shows on them, a sort of portable version of the Xbox 720, and one that would be different take on Google’s own Google Glass.

It seems reasonable, on the surface, that a hardware team could put together a Fortaleza-type device in the slightly more than two years before the 2014 holiday season.

A couple of job postings certainly leave room for a great deal of speculation. What we do know is that Microsoft is working on its own next big thing, and we’ll just have to wait and see what it is.

 

Fortaleza images via PCMag.com.