After having recently shown us some visionary beyond-game-console applications for the Kinect gesture interface peripheral, Microsoft appears to be ready to "put its money where its mouth is." As first (at least in my RSS feed suite) reported by VentureBeat, the company has partnered with an investment firm called TechStars (which, per its website, "provides seed funding from over 75 top venture capital firms and angel investors") to jump-start the next wave of Kinect-harnessing innovators. From Dean Takahashi's coverage:

Microsoft and TechStars are teaming up to create an accelerator that will promote startups using Kinect for commercial applications. The accelerator will take applications for a class of 10 startups through Jan. 25. They will then take part in a three-month incubation program at Microsoft and get $20,000 in seed funding.

Here's more coverage:

There's just one problem with this scenario (several, actually, but one big one), as any of you who've particularly used the device in non-gaming hacker apps may have already stumbled across. The minimum recommended player-to-peripheral distance is six feet for a single player, eight feet for two. Suffice it to say that using a computer (for example) from six feet away is a bit difficult! Optical add-ons such as Nyko's Zoom can somewhat reduce this span, but reviews have been hit-and-miss.

However, via a tweet published yesterday to the KinectForWindows account (which I also mentioned earlier this month), the company revealed that PC-specific hardware and software changes are en route for early 2012 availability. From the company blog post:

Building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios. Coupled with the numerous upgrades and improvements our team is making to the Software Development Kit (SDK) and runtime, the new hardware delivers features and functionality that Windows developers and Microsoft customers have been asking for.

Simple changes include shortening the USB cable to ensure reliability across a broad range of computers and the inclusion of a small dongle to improve coexistence with other USB peripherals.  Of particular interest to developers will be the new firmware which enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 centimeters in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 centimeters.  “Near Mode” will enable a whole new class of “close up” applications, beyond the living room scenarios for Kinect for Xbox 360.

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