Microsoft executives are choosing to embrace IT pros' hacking the Kinect hands-free controller for functions other than Xbox 360 gaming.
For Microsoft, its Kinect hands-free games controller
represents a chance to claim those casual gamers who made the Nintendo Wii such
an enormous success-and increase the lifespan of its five-year-old Xbox 360
For legions of tech pros, the Kinect's 3D camera-capable of
tracking 48 points of movement on a user's body, and then translating those
movements to a digital avatar-represents a chance to hack, experiment and
perhaps create something really cool.
Those pros joined the million-plus customers who purchased
Kinect following its Nov. 4 release. They studied the device, and then started
modifying it. And videos soon began to appear on YouTube, demonstrating what that
next-generation hardware could do aside from virtual fencing and dancing:
painting 3D images in mid-air, say, or tethering
Kinect's motion controls to an iRobot
(creating the KinectBot).
At first, Microsoft did not approve. "Microsoft does not
condone the modification of its products," a company
spokesperson told CNET Nov. 4
. "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."
However, before executives in Redmond unleashed the Dogs of
War, or at least the Chihuahuas of Stern Cease-and-Desist Letters, they seemed
to have second thoughts. In a Nov. 19 interview with NPR, Alex Kipman,
Microsoft's director of incubation for Xbox, insisted that a.) Kinect had
not been hacked, and b.) Microsoft had deliberately left the device open to
"The first thing to talk about is that Kinect was not
actually hacked," Kipman
said on the program
, according to a transcript provided by NPR. "Hacking
would mean that someone got to our algorithms that sit on the side of the Xbox
and was able to actually use them, which hasn't happened."
He added: "What has happened is someone wrote an open-source
driver for PCs that essentially opens the USB connection, which we didn't
protect by design, and reads the inputs from the sensor."
When asked whether Microsoft had left Kinect "open by
design," Kipman responded: "Yeah. Correct."
Microsoft is apparently offering Kinect's technology to
academic institutions, with an eye toward boosting the latter's research. The
company likely intends to use advances in 3D sensing for products beyond
gaming, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of Canesta, a maker of 3D-image
sensor chips and camera modules that can be embedded into a variety of consumer
products, including laptops and vehicle dashboards.
"There is little question that within the next decade we
will see natural user interfaces become common for input across all devices,"
Jim Spare, president and CEO of Canesta, wrote in an Oct. 29 statement posted
on the startup's Website. "With Microsoft's breadth of scope from enterprise to
consumer products, market presence, and commitment to NUI, we are confident
that our technology will see wide adoption across many applications that embody
the full potential of the technology."
Microsoft has predicted it will sell 5 million Kinect units
this quarter. If it incorporates 3D-sensing hardware into more devices, gaming
could be the vanguard of a far larger gesture-control movement, with
appropriately large profits. Given those stakes, it's probable that Microsoft
is paying a good deal of attention to how IT pros modify and build on Kinect's