Back at the Consumer Entertainment Expo (CES), Microsoft announced the next evolution of their Kinect technologyAvatar Kinect. At the time, back in January, the Kinect sensor had already helped re-brand the Xbox 360 as a go-to console for the ever-coveted casual gamer.

Now, we’re getting word on when to expect Avatar Kinect, which is set to show-off some new Kinect features including improved facial recognition.

Kinect was a hot seller out the gate, with over 10 million sensors sold to date; however, much like the Nintendo Wii is facing, selling a lot of units doesn’t mean long-term viability. That’s why engaging and innovative software is so important.

While it’s not a controller-less FPS or a virtual basketball court, Avatar Kinect is poised to showcase the precision of Kinect – by mapping facial expressions in the real world and displaying them on a user’s avatar in a virtual backdrop (such as a tailgate party or talk-show).

According to Microsoft press materials:

Avatar Kinect is a new social entertainment experience on Xbox LIVE bringing your avatar to life! Control your avatar’s movements and expressions with the power of Avatar Kinect. When you smile, frown, nod, and speak, your avatar will do the same.

Invite up to 7 friends to join you in over 15 virtual environments sure to inspire creative conversations and performances. Invite friends for a discussion, or have them join you at the performance stage where you can put on a show!

Avatar Kinect wasn’t initially designed as a game at all; instead, it evolved out of a study on the “geometry of a gaze” at Microsoft Research – until Microsoft Startup Business Group got involved. Much like Kinect (which could have been easily dismissed as nothing more than a great tech demo), the team at Microsoft had to find a way to turn Avatar Kinect into a workable feature  – instead of just a cool evolution of the tech.

According to Eric Lang, a general manager of the Startup Business Group, “The work that we did was taking something that was essentially a demo and turning it into a product. It’s a huge amount of work.

Avatar Kinect Tailgate

Xbox Live general manager, Pete Thompson was equally excited about the collaboration:

“It was personally very gratifying to see the teams come together and find creative solutions. The end result is a highly-curated consumer service that is very compelling, but also has tremendous headroom for future innovation from Microsoft and its partners.”

Despite the fact that Microsoft has promised the Kinect library will triple in 2011, many early adopters are already suffering from shuffleware overload – with primarily shallow party games available at this time.

Avatar Kinect, and the precision facial recognition tech may be a cool feature to add to the sensor’s resume – but until a third party developer puts the evolving tech to use in a high-profile game that hardcore and casual gamers will both be excited about – it’s hard to feel as though Microsoft has clear vision for compelling Kinect experiences.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and let us know what kind of game you’d like to see brought to Kinect in the coming year.

Avatar Kinect launches later this spring exclusively for Kinect on the Xbox 360.

Source: CVG