Just over a year ago I spent a day in Microsoft’s Victoria offices for the London launch of Windows 7. It was a good day and marked the end of the Win7 TAP programme which we’d been a part of. One of the highlights was Steve Ballmer taking questions from the floor. Whatever you think of Steve, he’s never going to be a dull speaker so he energetically covered a number of different topics from licensing to cloud. What really got him going though was when someone asked him about the (then recently announced) Project Natal, now known as Kinect.
To say he was enthusiastic would be an understatement, you could see his eyes light up when he heard the question. The funny thing was he didn’t talk about XBox. What he wanted was ideas for applications on PC’s, he got a few from the audience and seemed genuinely pleased. He actually spent quite a bit of time on the subject, talking about the issues they were trying to resolve around making Natal work at the close ranges you’d need for use on a desktop. Given his quite vocal passion for the subject god help the poor engineers he claimed to have been quizzing for solutions!
Of course today Kinect has been available for a week or two, and so far I’m very impressed. It’s very clever technology, the way it picks up on your movement is almost uncanny. What’s almost as fascinating as the games however is what’s been happening outside of the XBox itself. The hackers of the world have been quick to reverse engineer drivers to make the device work on real computers. Some of the demo’s are very impressive, especially given the small amount of time that Kinect and the hacked drivers have been available.
Having a look through YouTube a couple of the demo’s really stand out. The first (below) from a company called Evoluce shows a Kinect being used in Windows 7 and some of the Surface derived multitouch apps. They claim to be working on a software release.
The second shows a virtual puppet that is controlled by a puppeteers arm monitors by Kinect in real time. There’s a slight lag in there, but given that this sort of realtime motion capture has traditionally been pretty high-end stuff it’s very impressive for something that’s been knocked up in a short amount of time.
I think it’ll be fascinating to see what happens with this technology in the future. Given how quickly the community has developed both drivers and seemingly usable applications, I’d love to see what Steve’s been able to get from the engineers he’s been chasing. Of course quite how happy Steve would be about these community efforts I don’t know… but he did ask for desktop Natal applications this time last year :)