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Research moves from the lab to the street

April 9, 2015 | By Microsoft blog editor

Imagine a street dance in which the participants interact not just with their flesh-and-blood counterparts but also with lights and sounds controlled by the dancers’ own movements. That’s what visitors to SummerSalt, an outdoor arts festival in Melbourne, Australia, experienced. The self-choreographed event came courtesy of Encounters, an installation created by the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces (SocialNUI), a joint research facility sponsored by Microsoft, the University of Melbourne, and the state government of Victoria. Held in a special exhibition area on the grounds of the university’s Victorian College of the Arts, Encounters featured three Kinect v2 sensors installed overhead.

high-tech street dance uses Kinect sensor to gather insights into social interactions

During a VIP Encounters event on the evening of February 21, several hundred people took part in a Kinect “walk through,” during which dancers and other performers from Victorian College of the Arts mingled with the crowd to create social interactions captured by the Kinect sensors. The results were spectacular visual and audio effects, as the participants came to recognize that their movements and gestures controlled the music and sound effects as well as the light displays on an enormous outdoor screen.


Social interactions facilitated by natural user interfaces were the focus of the
Encounters event.

Researchers from SocialNUI conducted qualitative interviews while members of the public interacted with their Kinect-generated effects, probing for insights into the social implications of the experience. As Frank Vetere, director of SocialNUI, explained, “The center explores the social aspects of natural user interfaces, so we are interested in the way people form, come together and explore the public space. And we are interested in the way people might claim and re-orient the public space. This is an important part of taking technological developments outside of our lab and reaching out to the public and other groups within the University.”

Su Baker, director of the Victorian College of the Arts, said, “One of the great crossovers that’s happening now in art is [its] relationship [with] emerging technologies, and we have a number of students with a real interest in how emerging technologies can be used in their work.”

This unique, cross-disciplinary collaboration was a wonderful success, delighting not only the NUI researchers and art students but also the public participants.

John Warren, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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