The Microsoft Kinect is a great piece of kit. Since its launch in November 2010 it has helped revolutionise the way we play weird sports games on the XBox. However, not content with dodgy living room dancing, the hacker community seized upon the Kinect with some fervor, reappropriating the technology for such frivolous purposes as improving surgical robots and rescuing people after earthquakes.
Here at Thought Den we’re developing an installation in collaboration with Bristol Zoo and Bristol University. It’s called Zoom! The idea is that visitors unlock photos from the Zoo’s fantastic archive by impersonatating their favourite animals. Strike a penguin pose! Make like a monkey! Etc. With that in mind, here is a little round up of our six favourite uses of the Kinect (in no particular order).
1. Dubstep Kinect
Whether you are a fan of dubstep or not (the TD office is decidedly split on this issue) you can’t deny this is pretty cool. Frucor, makers of V Energy drinks, rounded up a lot of creative talent in a warehouse in New Zealand, covered them with energy drinks and money, and this is what they got.
The project uses multiple Kinects to track the movements of a single person, who then plays a musical UI with around six different gesture controls. Most interesting are these blog posts about overcoming the technical problems of using multiple Kinects pointing at each other (clue: wiggle them!), and making something with no tactile feedback feel like an instrument.
2. Being a pigeon
Who hasn’t dreamt of being a pigeon flying around London? Well now you can, thanks to ‘scientists’ from UCL. This project from George Mackerron uses Kinect gestures to mimic flying around Google Earth like a pigeon: flap to go up, leaning left or right to bank and forward to descend. Live pollution data is also streamed directly into the HUD, a skill pigeons rarely get due credit for.
While being wrapped in a slightly silly veneer (press bait and an easy hook in for non-techies, we feel) the interface looks fluid and provides a playful way of experiencing cartographical info. Finding out where a restaurant is by flying around it sounds a lot more fun than a map.
3. Lazy bin
It’s not the bin that is lazy here, but rather you! An enterprising Japanese genius has devised and built a whole working system for a motorised bin and rubbish trajectory system. Writing the code that would be required to compute the parabola of the the throw and move the bin accordingly, and without lag, is a pretty amazing feat in itself. Could it have been put to any better use than catching rubbish? Definitely not! [this is sarcasm]
4. Kinect on a curved surface
There have been many new interfaces designed with the Kinect technology in mind, not least those from the newer Kinect for Windows. Kreek was one that intrigued us; it uses the Kinect’s depth perception, but then limits the sensing area with a large rubber sheet. Voila, a touchscreen with a whole new dimension.
Touchscreens are nothing new, but adding tactile feedback from the rubber sheet is what makes this a more interesting proposition. Utilising new technology in innovative ways is often about adding a limiter that lets the technology thrive. Games are fun because they constrain play in certain directions, allowing you to fully explore what can be done within those limits; technology is the same.
We’re very much looking forward to Marble Madness 2012 for the Kreek!
5. Tongue Kinect
The Kinect obviously has some accessibility issues. The original version could only work with a user that was standing; one of the reasons we chose the more expensive Kinect for Windows for Zoom was that it can work with just the upper body, making sure the interactive is accessible for wheelchair users.
A group of reseearchers from Tokyo University are piloting a technology to allow the Kinect to be controlled just by using the tongue. The device works by first plotting and mapping the face, and uses this as a marker to then distinguish and track tongue movement. While it isn’t very accurate at the moment, further iterations could provide a whole new controller for those who are physically disabled from the neck down.
6. Driving the Kinect
And finally, Ford commissioned Baltimore based agency Bully! Entertainment to produce this driving game to sell some cars. You can pootle around in a new Ford Something, and even do some parking. Sweet!
What we like about this project is combining the Kinect with Unity3D graphics engine to produce what looks like a proper racing sim. The Kinect target area is very precise, and the controls mut be very responsive for the driving to function. We’ve been working on methods to achieve precise control (and ignore background noise) which is intuitive for kids on Zoom! at the moment.