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Hackers take Microsoft’s Kinect into unexplored territory

Giant, monolithic corporations have never been ones for the “sharing is caring” motto. Sometimes they have valid reasons for being against the open source society we are headed towards, but most times they don’t. In fact, it normally comes together around a single issue: the bottom line.

For years the powerhouses of the IT industry have been battling against the so-called “abuse” of their endeavours, but have we reached a turning point?

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Microsoft recently released their Kinect for the Xbox. The Kinect brings an entire new experience to gaming, allowing the users to free themselves of controls – totally. Using gestures alone, entire games can be played with full functionality, the game even recognises expressions of frustration and adjusts the level of difficulty accordingly.

Pretty fancy stuff, but as usual the thousands of hackers out there have seen previously unimagined uses for this new release, and have achieved some pretty interesting results already.

At first, Microsoft abhorred these hackers, but then suddenly did a turnaround, releasing this statement: “Kinect was not actually hacked. Hacking would mean that someone got to our algorithms that sit inside of the Xbox and was able to actually use them. Which hasn’t happened. Or, it means that you put a device between the sensor and the Xbox for means of cheating, which also has not happened. That’s what we call hacking, and that’s what we put a ton of work and effort in to make sure doesn’t actually occur.”

The statement goes on to say that “What has happened is someone wrote an open source driver for PCs, which essentially opens the USB connection, which we didn’t protect by design, and reads the inputs from the sensor.”

Looks like someone is chasing their tail. Could this be an admission that everything is not under control, and acknowledging a not so subtle victory for freedom of innovation?

Either way, this opened the floodgates for everyone and anyone to try their luck with the Xbox Kinect.

With the release of the open source Kinect driver for windows, new hacks started pouring in. We’ll list a few of the more exciting ones here.

A group of guys used the Kinect for Mobile Robotics. If that’s sounds pretty intense, that’s because it is. The implications of this are far reaching and make way for some really cool iRobot style projects.

On a lighter note, here is what has been dubbed the “coolest shadow puppet in the world”. Using your gestures, you can control how and where the puppet moves, as well as when it squawks.

There is also some 3D drawing, “Minority Report”-style navigation, 3D video capture and object recognition. The boundaries for the use of the Kinect seem to be ever expanding, and who knows where it will lead from here.

With Microsoft’s tacit backing, it looks like the Kinect hacks are going to get bigger and better, and might even make some people’s dreams come true. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.


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