As promised, Microsoft has shipped version 1.0 of the Kinect for Windows SDK and runtime, and said partners have started selling the Kinect hardware.

The Kinect motion and voice sensor was initially designed for use with Microsoft's Xbox gaming console. But it soon became clear that developers wanted the chance to build new kinds of applications using the sensor. Microsoft has been letting people build Kinect apps for PCs, but only for non-commercial use.

This release of the SDK (software development kit) means that developers can launch commercial products using the sensor.

The SDK and runtime include a few improvements over the most recent beta version, wrote Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows. They enable support for up to four Kinect sensors plugged into the same computer, include improved skeletal tracking of users and have a "near mode" for tracking movement as close as 40 centimetres in front of the device.

They also have the latest Microsoft speech recognition technology and an installer that developers can use in their application setup programs. Eisler wrote that the company expects to release updates to the SDK and runtime two to three times a year.

He didn't name who is selling the Kinect hardware but said the suggested price is $249 (£160). Amazon is selling it for that price. Microsoft plans to soon offer a special academic price of $149 (£95) for qualified educational uses.

Late last year Microsoft kicked off a program designed to give Kinect developers a leg up. The company is selecting 10 people or startups who will spend three months in Seattle working out of the Kinect offices. They'll receive technical training and support and have access to investors and Microsoft executives.

Microsoft has highlighted a wide array of applications that might be possible or are already in development for the Kinect.

In one video, Microsoft shows people using the Kinect to play instruments without the instrument, a doctor in an operating room flipping through X-ray images without having to touch them and a teacher controlling a display of the night sky by waving his arms.

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