North Park University Alumni 'Kinect' with Popular Microsoft Product

Microsoft HQ
Luke Bruckner, left, C'2005, and Kjel Larsen, right, C'2007, were both part of a team that was instrumental in developing a Spanish-language version of Microsoft's popular XBox Kinect.

Kjel Larsen, Luke Bruckner work on Spanish-language XBox Kinect

CHICAGO (December 15, 2011) — It's amazing how technology and commerce can be used to connect people across different cultures. Or should we say, "Kinect" people?

North Park University alumni Kjel Larsen (University class of 2007) and Luke Bruckner (University class of 2005) had the opportunity to do just that in Seattle for Microsoft's popular XBox Kinect. Larsen led the team that built Spanish-language voice-recognition functionality for the system. He convinced Bruckner, after the two successfully climbed Mt. Rainer in Washington state, to join the group to help international users improve the Kinect's recognition abilities.

The Kinect is an accessory to the Microsoft XBox 360 video game console that detects movement by the players, so no physical controllers are necessary. Instead, operations are carried out with gestures and voice commands. Since the product's release just over a year ago, the Kinect sold more than 10 million units globally, including 750,000 sales on "Black Friday" this year. Given those numbers, the Kinect and its cutting-edge gaming experience are helping to push the home entertainment industry into exciting new places.

For the device to have broad appeal internationally, it was important that its speech-recognition capabilities work in multiple regions, Larsen said. His Seattle-based team spearheaded the integration of Mexican Spanish into the system, which would be applicable for users in many Central and South American countries, and in the United States. The team collaborated with a speech modeling group and voice actors in Mexico to develop realistic, accurate, voice recognition for the language, Larsen said. After the initial lexicon was established, the team installed algorithms or rules to allow the Kinect system to "self-update" with user input over the XBox Live network. Bruckner is working to leverage this process, called "crowdsourcing" since it relies on users, across other international projects at Microsoft.

An XBox user jumps to control a raft in a racing game. An XBox user jumps to control a raft in a racing game.

Larsen explained that the goal of the Kinect is to provide users with a much more intuitive experience than with other video games. By letting players operate the console without physical controllers of any sort, Microsoft hopes the system will grow increasingly more interactive and natural to use, Larsen said. The integration of multiple languages helps fulfill that mission.

Doing innovative work with an international scope came naturally to Bruckner and Larsen. Larsen grew up in a missionary family in Mexico, and had a foundation for multicultural work when he enrolled at North Park University to study business and economics, with a concentration in international business. Bruckner complemented his history major with cultural and language studies in Swedish, Greek, and French. He later completed an MBA in entrepreneurship and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Larsen and Bruckner continue to apply their skills at Microsoft, but for now, information about specific new projects in progress is confidential. Given their success with Kinect more great things may be coming in the near future from this technological duo.

This story was prepared by Mike Mirza, University Marketing and Communications.

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