Your laptop may soon be gesture-ready. This week Microsoft released its SDK (software development kit) for Kinect for Windows. This should allow developers to create lots of cool applications that take advantage of Kinect’s gesture and speech-recognition technology.

Additionally, Microsoft said its distribution partners in 12 launch countries are starting to ship the Kinect for Windows hardware. The suggested retail price is $249, and the company says later this year it will offer special academic pricing of $149 for qualified users. So in the near future you should be able to buy a Kinect sensor bar for your computer and start playing some pretty cool games.

But what this announcement might really mean is that Kinect will now branch out into an entire world beyond games. We’ve been hearing hints of some nifty applications that developers are looking to create, and it seems the sky is the limit. Right now, before any applications have yet emerged, it’s fun to daydream about how people might put Kinect’s capabilities to use.

There’s been buzz about applications for healthcare. This could be a boon for telemedicine. For instance, Kinect can analyze gestures in significant detail. Maybe a patient who lives a long way from a doctor could use a Kinect application to diagnose a sprained elbow. A software program could instruct the patient to move his arm in certain ways, analyze the results, and then communicate them to a doctor. Perhaps it’s a long shot to think the software could tell a sprained elbow from a healthy one, but it’s an idea.

I can also imagine applications useful for remote-monitoring of older adults. A Kinect application could run in the background and detect motion, perhaps sensing if someone has fallen. Of course, the person would have to be in the line-of-sight of the computer, but it’s another way to think about the possibilities of the device.

I’m looking forward to hearing about the actual applications developers come up with for Kinect for Windows. I’m willing to bet they will create things I can’t even imagine.

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