By Mike Mirza
SEATTLE, WA (December 28, 2011) – Two former North Park University students are helping Microsoft “Kinect” with gamers internationally and across cultures.
Kjel Larsen, who graduated in 2007, led the team that built the Spanish-language voice-recognition functionality for the company’s popular Xbox Kinect. He recruited Luke Bruckner, a 2005 graduate who attends First Covenant Church in Seattle, to be part of the team.
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, Kinect has sold more than 10 million units globally, including 750,000 in sales on “Black Friday” this year.
Larsen explains that the goal of 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 feel more natural to use.
For the device to have broad appeal internationally, it was important that its speech-recognition capabilities work in multiple regions, Larsen says.
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 the United States.
The team collaborated with a speech modeling group and voice actors in Mexico to develop realistic and accurate voice recognition for the language, Larsen says. After the initial lexicon was established, the team installed algorithms (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” – because it relies on users across other international projects at Microsoft.
Doing innovative work with an international scope came naturally to Bruckner and Larsen. Larsen, who also served as an Evangelical Covenant Church short-term missionary, grew up in a missionary family in Mexico. That experience provided a foundation for multicultural work when he enrolled at North Park 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.
Bruckner and Larsen are working on other projects at Microsoft, but say they are unable to discuss them.
Editor’s note: This article was adapted from one written by Mike Mirza for the North Park University website.