Microsoft has announced that they are developing new Kinect hardware designed specifically for Windows-based PCs. The company revealed a Kinect for Windows commercial program a few weeks ago that will launch in early 2012 but this is the first we have heard of new hardware specifically for computers.

The new hardware will be built on existing Kinect for Xbox 360 hardware with improvements made to certain hardware components and firmware. Some of the more basic changes include a shorter USB cable to ensure reliability across a broad range of systems and a smaller dongle that will fit better alongside other USB devices plugged into the computer’s I/O panel.

Upgrades to the firmware will allow the camera to see objects as close as 50mm from the lens without losing accuracy or precision. Objects can still be tracked at 40mm but with noticeable degradation. Microsoft is calling this new feature “Near Mode” and they suspect it will enable a whole new class of “close up” applications beyond basic living room scenarios that gamers are familiar with on the Xbox 360.

Microsoft sees a future where Kinect will be heavily integrated into the daily activities of companies worldwide. As part of their commitment to NUI (Natural User Interfaces), licensed customers of the Kinect for Windows commercial program will have access to ongoing updates in both speech and human tracking from Microsoft.

Finally, Microsoft recently launched the Kinect Accelerator incubation project. This initiative acts as a think tank for startups that want to integrate Kinect into their work environment. The project is giving 10 tech-oriented companies an investment of $20,000 each to get their idea moving. Interested parties can submit an application through January 25, 2012. Those selected will have the opportunity to present their product at an Investor Demo Day at the end of the program.