Bill Crounse, MD has been the senior director for worldwide health at Microsoft for the past ten years, with a resume that includes stints as a physician, a broadcaster, and a proponent of the idea of telemedicine, which uses technology to provide healthcare without having to physically see a doctor.
So when Microsoft Research first showed Dr. Crounse its then-work-in-progress Kinect peripheral, which combines a camera with a microphone and depth tracking, his thoughts turned immediately to health care. He envisioned a future where patients might meet in group settings for anxiety, depression, and other illnesses where they might prefer to protect their anonymity behind an Xbox Live Avatar.
"This is stuff that Microsoft will never do,” Crounse admitted during the opening keynote at the 9th annual Games for Health Conference in Boston on Wednesday. “Don't expect to see Dr. Bill running diabetes counseling or depression counseling on the Xbox Live system anytime soon. Not gonna happen. "
That doesn't mean others can't step up to the plate, however. Microsoft's Kinect for Windows SDK has inspired many health-related projects. A hospital in Toronto, Canada is using Kinect as part of a system which allows doctors who are scrubbed up in the operating room to access and manipulate patient information using gestures, for example. General Electric has developed a hands-free interface using Kinect for imaging solutions.
And there are, of course, the commercial fitness games, such as Majesco's Zumba Fitness Rush and the Microsoft-published Nike + Kinect Training, which was unveiled at E3 just last week.
For Crounse, these developments suggest a future where game consoles can be used for applications beyond entertainment.
"I can envision the day when there will be a 'services' tile on that screen, both in Windows and Xbox…that will connect you to a doctor, connect to a plumber, connect to a baker," he said. "You can see that the possibility is there.”
“When we launched Kinect it was all about video games, [selling] millions and millions of video games. And to this day even me, inside the company, I have a little trouble engaging with that team over there, rightfully so, because their mission is to sell millions and millions of video games.
"But what happened when we launched Kinect is all of the sudden the world started telling us [where the technology is going].”