"The video-game industry spends its time putting more and more gadgets into people's hands," says software designer Alex Kipman. "I wanted to do the opposite." He spent three and a half years developing a groundbreaking technology that takes controllers out of those hands and turns the human body itself into a controller. Drawing inspiration from Star Trek's holodeck, Kipman has made the virtual reality of sci-fi films a bona fide reality: His baby, Kinect, a peripheral for the Xbox that hits stores in November, scans a player and tracks his movements at 48 body points to operate an onscreen avatar, so spiking a virtual volleyball takes actual physical prowess; winning the love of a new virtual pet requires a gentle touch (and thanks to Kinect's face, voice, and gesture recognition, Fido knows you). The potential applications go well beyond games and simulations—music and other performances, business meetings, and even the practice of medicine could all be revolutionized. And imagine the possibilities for e-commerce: one day being able to try a new suit on your perfectly mapped onscreen self—with a live (scanned) personal shopper standing by to talk alterations. Kipman had another goal in making his eye-popping, James Cameron–esque technology less techy: accessibility. "There are between 40 and 100 million people with dexterous thumbs, but there are more than 6 billion people on earth," he says. "That leaves a lot of people who wouldn't get to experience what I think is the most amazing art form in the world."

NEXT: Chad Griffin, President, American Foundation for Equal Rights