Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Kinect-ing

February 2012

By Mike Gould

...Connection, I just can't make no connection. But all I want to do is to get back to you.
          ...The Rolling Stones

Well, Mick, I think you connected pretty well with everybody back in 1967, and are still doing a pretty decent job of it today. Remember as well that Microsoft (MS) gave the Stones around $10M for the rights to "Start Me Up" for the media blitz that introduced Windows 95 back in, um 1995.

Sticky Fingers
Given that tenuous chain of events, we can move on to the mighty Microsoft Kinect, the wondrous device that follows your every movement, allowing you dance, play Jai alai, and generally interact with your computer or Xbox in a hygienic, hands-off non-contact fashion. Remember Keanu Reeves' character in Johnny Mnemonic? Controlling the computer by waving his hands around? Sorta like that. Well, exactly like that. Actually I'm not sure about the Jai alai bit, but I'm sure someone is working on it.

Shine a Light
Here's how it works: the Kinect sensor is a small horizontal bar that mounts on your monitor, TV, or whatever. From the sensor, a small projector bathes your bod in a matrix array of tiny, invisible, infra-red (IR) dots. A stereo camera tracks those dots and can sense when the body parts reflecting the IR are moving. Complex software decodes this dot-sensing and translates it into data that can be used to control, well, anything. You move your hand up, the pattern of reflected IR is sensed, translated, sent to processing, and the picture of your hand on the monitor moves up to connect with the virtual handball, or whatever, on the screen.

This was originally developed to control the Xbox 360 gaming system, which was introduced in November of 2010. It was a smash hit, selling 8 million units in the first 60 days of its release, earning a Guinness World Record for "fastest selling consumer electronics device".

Jumpin' Jack Flash
I have always maintained that Microsoft makes great hardware. I use a MS Wireless Intellimouse Explorer 2, and just love it to death. Their new Windows phones get good reviews and the Xbox 360 is beloved by anyone who has jumped around playing games such as Dance Central 2 with it. I'm not a gamer myself, but those who are swear by their Xboxen (old joke: 1 ox, 2 oxen - 1Xbox, 2 Xboxen). The Xbox FaceBook page is listed below.

Exile on Main Street
OK, so this is a business zine; what's with all the game-age? Just this: the Kinect is not just for gaming anymore. Microsoft has recently announced they are releasing the Kinect for the PC - no game console needed. For a mere $250 ($100 more than for the Xbox version) any business can buy a PC Kinect and start developing applications that use motion sensing instead of mousing or finger swiping. Minority Report, here we come.

MS has also released a Software Developer's Kit (SDK) which is available for free. An SDK is the way that manufacturers share the coding ins and outs of a given piece of hardware. This represents an interesting state of affairs at MS. Usually, Microsoft is a little more circumspect in letting others play in their sandbox: Windows is, after all, a pretty much closed system in that MS doesn't release their source code.

Microsoft initially viewed with alarm the glee with which hackers and makers descended upon the Kinect when it first came out. Creative folks were taking advantage of the 3D vision aspect to give eyes to robots, and doing all sorts of other neat things with the rest of the system. The driver (the embedded code that sends commands to and from the box) was hacked by a Spaniard named Hector after a company called Adafruit set up a contest to find a way into the box. It took a week from the offer to the answer, with the Hector garnering $3K for his efforts.

Dancing with Mr. D
Microsoft said in a statement:

"Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products… With Kinect, Microsoft built in numerous hardware and software safeguards designed to reduce the chances of product tampering. Microsoft will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant."

Then a wonderful thing happened: Microsoft became clue-enabled. Wiser heads at MS prevailed, noting that "Ya know, I bet if we stopped harassing our fans and opened this up, we could sell a boatload of Kinects and make a lot of money!" And so they did. Now anyone can download the SDK for the PC Kinect and develop away. The URL of the download page is below. And MS is on its way to becoming yet another standard in the computing ecostructure here in the technical vastness of the future. Well played.

Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!
There is a developing hacker subculture devoted to doing cool things with the Kinect. KinectHacks.com is one such site, URL below. They are currently featuring articles on telepresence, interactive light sculpture (gnomons), real-time motion capture, an interactive virtual puppet, and a bunch of other interesting projects. There is even a feature on the Polish Prime Minister using the Kinect to punch up his talks with the press. They even have downloadable code to use to develop your own apps and hacks.

Gimme Shelter
As for me, I'm working with a group of machinists, techies and artists to build a … well, it's a secret. But there will be a Kinect in there somewhere. Stay tuned for details as events unfold.

Wired magazine article about how the SDK came to be made public: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/mf_kinect/all/1

Xbox on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/xbox

Minority Report Kinect Connection: http://www.pcworld.com/article/213126/minority_report_meets_kinect...

Kinect Hacks: http://www.kinecthacks.com/

Kinect Software Developers Kit: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/kinectforwindows/

Mike Gould used to play a lot of Stones music in various bands, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 2.2 Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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