Just the Best Parts: Kinect Hacking for Artists - Chapter 1.01

Getting Started

So, what’s a Kinect?

Since you’re reading a book about using the Kinect there’s a good chance you know already what it is. But maybe you’ve just heard a few things about it and your curiosity has been piqued. Since making use of the Kinect requires some understanding of a few technical details let’s go over just what it is.

The short version is that the Microsoft Kinect is game controller for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console.

The longer version: When the Xbox (and later, the Xbox 360) was released it used fairly standard game controllers. These were hand-held devices with assorted buttons and knobs used in some form or another by essentially every game system. In 2006 the Nintendo Corporation released a novel gaming console called the Wii. What set the Wii apart was the use of a new kind of game controller that understood the movements and gestures of the players. In many ways it looked much like previous game controllers with buttons and knobs, but if you waved it around like a sword (for example) the Wii understood.

Whereas video games where basically finger-twitching episodes, with the Wii they become far more physically engaging. But you still had to use a hand-held device.

The Kinect picked up where the Wii left off. Like the Wii it allowed game control using motion and gestures, but unlike the Wii no one had to hold anything. The Kinect was able to recognize the shapes of people and respond to body movement and location.

FIXME: Get a picture showing the Kinect

The Xbox Kinect

Because the Xbox 360 had already been out for a while Microsoft sold the Kinect as a separate add-on intended for use with the 360.

This Kinect connected to the 360 console using a standard USB plug. These two facts (sold separate, uses standard USB) immediately drew the interest of hardware hackers who wondered if this new device could be attached and used directly by a standard computer for purposes other than playing Xbox games?

A company named Adafruit was interested enough in this question that they offered a bounty of US $ 2,000.00 to the first person who wrote an open-source (i.e. free to use and hack on) program to allow the Kinect to work on standard PC hardware.

When Microsoft got wind of this they were not too pleased, perhaps misunderstanding what was going on. They issued a quasi-threatening announcement regarding any tampering with their device. Adafruit was so impressed by this gesture that they upped the bounty to US $3,000.00.

In November of 2010, within hours of the Kinect being made available to the general public, the prize was awarded. Very soon afterwards more software and better software made it relatively easy for anyone to use a Kinect attached to their Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.

The Upshot

You now have free software you can use on Windows, OSX, and Ubuntu to make use of an Xbox 360 Kinect controller. This means you can use gestures and skeleton tracking to control assorted software applications. You can use the Kinect to compose or manipulate music, draw pictures or guide animations, create motion-capture animation, and more.

Up next: Installing the software

On to Chapter 2

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