Kinect, Microsoft’s motion tracking device for the Xbox, is among the greatest hits to come out of Redmond in recent memory. While there have been many projects that used the Kinect device with regular PCs, those were always hacks. Now, however, Microsoft is making a beta version of an official software development kit (SDK) for the Kinect available for those who want to get easier access to the Kinect’s features on Windows 7 PCs. This SDK is not open-sourced and isn’t licensed for commercial uses (yet).

With this SDK, developers will get access to virtually all of the Kinect’s advanced hardware, including raw sensor streams, skeletal tracking for up to two people and access to the device’s audio which can be integrated with Microsoft’s speech recognition API.

Non-Commerical Only – For Now

For now, the SDK only allows for non-commerical usage. This means you won’t see Kinect-enabled PC games or gesture-based interface for sale anytime soon. Microsoft is currently aiming the SDK at academics and students who want to use the SDK for research and classroom teaching and those who want to simply explore the possibilities of using the Kinect for building new natural user interfaces.

While the SDK only allows for these non-commerical uses, though, Microsoft explicitly notes that developers can distribute their demos, though users who just want to test these apps will have to install the SDK as well.

Microsoft also plans to allow for commercial uses of the SDK soon, but hasn’t disclosed a timeline yet. Talking to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft Research Distinguished Scientist Anoop Gupta said that he expects to see Kinect-based apps for “telepresence/teleconferencing, manufacturing, retail billboard, automotive and lots of other categories to be big among Kinect developers as the SDK moves from non-commercial to commercial.”