Can Kinect Make Windows Cool Again?

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Tom Smith, chief marketing manager for Nissan North America, planned to unveil the redesigned Pathfinder at the Chicago Auto Show in February. His problem: Although much of the allure of the new Pathfinder is in its upgraded interior, Smith didn’t have the whole car to show off, just a fiberglass shell.

So he turned to Microsoft Kinect, a motion- and voice-sensing device originally meant as an add-on for the Xbox gaming console. In February, Microsoft (MSFT) released a version that works with Windows PCs, as well as tools to help developers create apps for it. Nissan used the $250 device to create a virtual tour of the Pathfinder. Car fans step in front of a Kinect, which tracks their head movements using sensors that gauge distance and recognize objects. A large screen nearby displays what they would see if they were sitting in the car. Look up, and there are the dual moon roofs; look down to check out the legroom. It “truly is a game-changer,” says Smith, adding that Nissan plans to use the demos at its dealerships ahead of the car’s fall arrival.