Amid the growing community of Kinect hackers that have turned Microsoft's controller-free gaming device to everything from the obvious Minority Report-style user interfaces to a set of eyes for the visually impaired, Microsoft has announced it will release an official Kinect SDK for Windows 7. At MIX11, the company revealed the non-commercial beta SDK would arrive in the northern spring to give enthusiasts the tools to more easily explore the potential of the device for both gaming and non-gaming applications.

In addition to providing access to the infrared depth and RGB camera data, which were hacked a mere three hours after the device's European launch, the SDK will also provide developers with skeletal tracking capabilities to determine the body positions of up to two people. It will also provide full access to the Kinect's four-element microphone array to allow for noise cancelation and to identify the current sound source via beam formation. Developers will also be given full use of the integrated speech recognition API.

To assist developers, Microsoft will also include documentation for the APIs and a description of the SDK architecture, along with sample code demonstrating how to make use of the functionality of the SDK. Developers will be able to write applications in C#, C++, and Visual Basic.

Onstage at MIX11, the company provided a glimpse of what is possible using the toolkit with a Kinect hooked up to its WorldWide Telescope to allow users to explore the universe using hand gestures. It should be exciting to see what other applications developers come up with when the Kinect for Windows SDK beta is released sometime in the next month or so.