Today, Microsoft launched Kinect for Windows, a software development kit that makes it easier for programmers to dream up new uses for its gesture-sensing hardware. Microsoft also organized a 24-hour “code camp,” at which hackers, academics, and hobbyists gave the software a try.
At the end of the camp, one group of hackers presented a game that would allow a traveling parent to interact with a child back at home. The child controls a character in a maze by moving in front of a Kinect, while the parent controls a character through accelerometers in a Windows 7 smart phone. The two can play cooperatively and talk to each other over the phone and the Kinect’s microphones. Another project developed during the camp lets users control a toy helicopter with gestures. A third gives Kinect users control of a virtual orchestra, including the ability to swell sound levels by lifting their hands. A fourth group created virtual light sabers.
Shortly after the Kinect launched late last year, hackers started enthusiastically coopting it for all sorts of purposes, to take advantage of its sophisticated depth-sensing capabilities. They were able to do it because they found a way to pull raw data from the device. A community of developers devoted to figuring out how to process that data also sprang up. Kinect for Windows gives outside developers access to software that Microsoft uses to process Kinect data, and also interfaces smoothly with other Microsoft products, such as the Windows 7 and Windows 7 Phone operating systems.
The Kinect, which retails for $150, includes sensors that hackers say rival or exceed those in pieces of hardware that sell for thousands. The device contains depth sensors, a camera, and an array of microphones. Hobbyists have used the Kinect to do everything from helping robots navigate to controlling unmanned flying drones with body movements.
Anoop Gupta, a distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research, stresses that Microsoft’s official offering, which is free to download and works on Windows 7, takes advantage of the company’s experience in creating the Kinect in the first place. “We believe we have the deepest insight into the technology,” Gupta says. In particular, the company is giving access to the algorithms that it uses to process information from the Kinect’s sensors.