Every year about this time, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, holds an intimate gathering to discuss the company’s vision for the future: just Craig, a handful of Microsoft thinkers and select media convening for a lively show-and-tell discussion called TechForum.

I’ll have more to share here tomorrow about the prototypes shown and topics discussed during the course of the day.

This morning, Craig and Don Mattrick, president, Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB), announced plans to release a non-commercial Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit, or SDK, this spring.

The community that has blossomed since the launch of Kinect for Xbox 360 in November shows the breadth of invention and depth of imagination possible when people have access to ground-breaking technology. Already, researchers, academics and enthusiasts are thinking through what’s next in natural and intuitive technology. For example, in January I mentioned Craig’s talk at the Cleveland Clinic, where he highlighted students at the University of Washington’s Biorobotics Lab using Kinect with a commercially available PHANTOM Omni Haptic Device to explore how robotic surgery could be enhanced by incorporating the sense of feel.

The Kinect for Windows SDK is being developed and released by Microsoft Research (MSR) in collaboration with IEB.  It will be available this spring as a free download, and will give academic researchers and enthusiasts access to key pieces of the Kinect system—such as the audio technology, system application programming interfaces and direct control of the Kinect sensor itself.

Supporting this community and enabling creativity around natural user interfaces (NUI) is important to us, and our hope is that this SDK will ignite further creativity in an already vibrant ecosystem of enthusiasts. We are very excited by this announcement. Not only does it showcase our investment in this important technology trend, but it ensures that people have the tools they desire to revolutionize how people interact with technology.

The possibilities are endless.  Natural and intuitive technologies such as Kinect can be more than just a great platform for gaming and entertainment.  They open up enormous opportunities across a wide variety of scenarios, including addressing societal issues in areas such as healthcare and education.

Here’s to spring 2011 and what’s next in natural user interface technologies.

More on NUI from Next at Microsoft

More on Craig Mundie and Rethinking Computing

Posted by Steve Clayton
Editor, Next at Microsoft Blog