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Microsoft Kinect 'hack' opens up possibilities

20 November 10 08:54 GMT

By Alex Hudson and Spencer Kelly
BBC Click

It only took a matter of hours in the hands of intrepid developers for Microsoft's motion-sensing device Kinect to be "hacked" - or released for use on other platforms using open source software.

Many programmers have already shown what can be done with Microsoft's new device.

As soon as Microsoft became aware of the hacks it threatened legal action to halt the proliferation of the open source drivers but now has, according to technology site ZDNet, "backed down".

Linux programmer Hector Martin bought his Kinect just before lunchtime on its European release date of November 10 and had created the fundamentals of the drivers before dinner.

As the BBC reported , this meant that the Xbox device was capable of running on a PC without any interaction or connection with the Xbox, Martin himself not actually owning Microsoft's console.

The Open Kinect Project had been set up by Adafruit Industries as a competition offering $1,000 (£600) for the first person to create open source drivers.

This increased to $3000 (£2000) in response to Microsoft's hard line on what Adafruit was advocating.

In a statement to the BBC, Microsoft was keen to point out that the Xbox 360 control system for the Kinect had not been hacked.

"What has happened is someone has created drivers that allow other devices to interface with the Kinect for Xbox 360," it said.

"The creation of these drivers, and the use of Kinect for Xbox 360 with other devices, is unsupported."

When contacted again, Microsoft had no further comment.

The idea of hacking, or even "unlocking" hardware is always a tricky business. There is a grey area of the law within which the developers are generally adverse to others playing around with their device.

It has been described it as "legal... but", in a similar way to the unlocking of mobile phones to use different networks.

Dana Blankenhorn, of ZDNet, said that Microsoft's change of heart was down to two factors:

"Microsoft lawyers recognised that it has no legal case against Martin, who made no changes to the hardware [and] Microsoft marketers realised that the drivers might, in the end, be a gold mine for Microsoft."

A stipulation of the competition was that the winning software must then be freely available to download - and it has already produced surprising results.

Oliver Kreylos' demonstration of the 3D camera functionality is perhaps the clearest example of the potential of the machine - the Kinect's 3D reconstructions could, eventually, allow you to make your own 3D films, though in this example the technology is still a little rough around the edges.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, with all sorts of different ideas springing up. Floemuc's Minority Report-style interface shows the fundamentals of how future interfaces could work without ever having to touch the screen. You can scroll past and manipulate images just by waving your hands in the air.

There is even something for aspiring puppeteers. An interactive prototype puppet has been made using skeleton tracking and was created in a day.

And this is just the beginning. Assuming that Microsoft does not pursue legal action or any other way of halting the developers, more refined versions of these ideas will begin to spring up, truly unlocking the potential of the Kinect.

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