5 of the best Kinect hacks

Since Kinect's launch a hurricane of nerd toil has produced some awesome demonstrations of the technology's potential

Kinect's line up of launch games doesn't make for inspiring reading, particularly if you're over the age of twelve. But if you need any proof that Microsoft's pimped-up webcam has potentially world-beating powers, look no further than the inspiring work of Kinect's ever-growing hacking community.

Microsoft now claims it intentionally left the Kinect's USB port 'open', and that the accessory hasn't technically been hacked. While that seems awfully convenient, what's certain is that in the two weeks since Kinect's launch a hurricane of nerd toil has produced some awesome demonstrations of the technology's potential. Here's our pick of the five best (so far):     

1. KinectBot 

In a nutshell: Kinect + iRobot Roomba = vacuum cleaner capable of creating real-time 3D maps and responding to gestures

Seeing that the Kinect is essentially a depth and movement-sensing eye, the Personal Robots Group at MIT grafted it onto an iRobot Create to create an R2D2-esque minion. 

The demo shows some exciting capabilities – while trundling around autonomously the KinectBot creates a 3D map of its environment and sends it wirelessly to a computer. But best of all, a mere wave of the arm sends it off in the right direction towards a dusty room.  

Potential superpowers: locating trapped disaster victims, next-gen robot servants  

2. 3D augmented reality

In a nutshell: Modified Kinect creates real-time, 3D video of geek's bedroom complete with Doom 3 monster

The Kinect has both a video camera and a depth sensor – feed those two streams into custom ‘virtual reality’ software, stir in some boffin dust, and you get a true, real-time 3D video camera like the one below.

The video is, quite literally, rough around the edges and records only one side of a scene, but this is just the start – another demo shows the virtual camera flying around the room and measuring 3D objects, while the video below shows the highly affordable setup placing 3D renderings into the scene. Nifty.

Potential superpowers: Budget CGI movie making, customisable live TV camera positions

3. Kinect Lightsabre

In a nutshell: Kinect turns broomstick into a Lightsabre, geeks swoon

Given that Microsoft demoed a Star Wars game at E3 2009 (rumours suggest it’s slated for a Christmas 2011 release), a light sabre hack wasn’t exactly a shock.

Not that it lessens this video’s appeal – despite a little lag, a man’s wooden stick is turned into a convincing, real-time Lightsabre. Though the PlayStation Move and its glowing controllers might well have some Jedi tricks up their sleeves too.    

Potential superpowers: Bedroom Jedis, life-sapping Star Wars games 

4. Minority Report multi-touch

In a nutshell: Next-gen Microsoft Surface

‘The mouse has run its course’ declared John Underkoffler, the MIT boffin who created the holographic, gesture-based computer interface seen in Minority Report. And by the looks of this Kinect hack, he’s spot on.   

Running on Ubuntu, it uses the camera feed to let you organize, expand and browse photos in a Microsoft Surface-like fashion. Or possibly organise your escape from the 'pre-crime' division.     

Potential superpowers: Revolutionary computer and TV interfaces, the end of RSI 

5. Standard gravity

In a nutshell: Tetris for the motion-gaming age 

Not all Kinect hacks are trying to change the world – some are aimed at the accessory's target audience, gamers. Like this art project, which projects a torrent of squares on a screen and lets you ‘catch’ and manipulate them. 

It’s all very reminiscent of the Intel Infoscape wall at CES 2010, which was similarly mesmerising and pulled stories live from Google News. Combine the two and we'll soon be showering in virtual tiles of live news.  


Potential superpowers: Next-gen Tetris and puzzle games