Will Kinect support sign language? No. But maybe.

Microsoft's motion-control camera won't launch with sign language support, but it may be able to handle it, says the company

The gossip blogs had a field day a few weeks ago, homing in on a patent filing unearthed by GoRumors that implied Microsoft's Kinect motion-control camera for the Xbox 360 might recognize sign language.

In the patent, an illustration depicts a user spelling words using their hands.

"The user...is making a gesture with his left hand...to signal the character 'a' in American Sign Language (ASL)," reads the accompanying text. The patent extends this spelling action to include one hand, both hands, or "some combination of body parts," and mentions the possibility of using a prop, like a baton, to spell words.

"ASL has the advantage of having a large number of people who are already facile in using it," continues the patent. "To that end, a user who is facile in ASL will have an easy time inputting characters to a system that accepts ASL gestures as input."

Microsoft's response last week to queries about the patent filing (which has since disappeared) was predictably vague.

"We are excited about the potential of Kinect and its potential to impact gaming and entertainment," said the company in a press statement. "Microsoft files lots of patent applications to protect our intellectual property, not all of which are brought to market right away."

And the coup de grace: "Kinect that is shipping this holiday will not support sign language."

But does "will not" equal "can not"? I asked for clarification and (almost) got it.

According to Microsoft, while Kinect won't support sign language when it launches this holiday, it's anyone's guess what it's actually capable of. While the company won't comment on speculation about Kinect's camera resolution, I'm hearing there's no reason to believe it couldn't handle ASL recognition "through the magic of software."

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Matt Peckham

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