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Microsoft UK develops KinEtre to animate household objects

In 1991, the animators at Disney showed us a fantastic vision of tea kettles and clocks singing and dancing alongside human characters in the animated film Beauty and the Beast. Now that dream-like scenario has moved just a step closer to reality thanks to the efforts of Microsoft's UK researchers and their work on a system called KinEtre.

Based upon the advances Microsoft made with the Kinect system, KinEtre allows you to digitally "possess" inanimate 3D objects on a screen with your own body's movements, resulting in dancing book cases and walking chairs. The feat is made possible by using the Kinect hardware device, KinectFusion, a tool that allows you to scan objects and instantly create 3D models, and KinEtre, which allows you to virtually attach your limbs to the scanned object via spoken command and move it in real-time. The odd name is a portmanteau of the name Kinect and the French word "être," which means "to be."

The technology was unveiled to the public at the Siggraph conference in Los Angeles last week. Developed by Jiawen Chen, Shahram Izadi, and Andrew Fitzgibbon, the system is designed for the casual user interested in fun applications at home rather than for use by professional animators.

"The idea is that we want to let you bring the world around you to life. We want to let you use Kinect for Windows and a PC and take arbitrary household objects and make them move like a cartoon character," Chen said during an interview session on the Inside Microsoft site.

However, Chen does envision a more professional use for the technology for those planning large projects. "When we started this, we were thinking of using it as a more effective way of doing set dressing and prop placement in movies for a preview," he said. "Studios have large collections of shapes, and it's pretty tedious to move them into place exactly. We wanted to be able to quickly walk around and grab things and twist them around. Then we realised we can do many more fun things."

At present, there are no announced plans for a commercial version of the KinEtre, but in the meantime the research team has posted a detailed video demonstration (top) that offers a fun look at exactly how the system works.