The Kinect was released in 2010 as a peripheral for the Xbox 360 and was marketed as a way to add motion controls to games. Microsoft even added it as a peripheral when marketing the Xbox One, boosting features in it such as voice control for the console.
While some see it is as nothing more that a video-game add-on, the Microsoft Kinect commands technologies that extend practical usage beyond the gaming realm.
After Microsoft released the SDK for Kinect, it has been a vital part in many medical, robotic and other fields, re-invented as part of a homemade hack, a university research project and lots more. Here are just 10 of the innovative ways the Microsoft Kinect is being used.
1. Produce high-Quality 3D Scans
The Kinect Fusion project allows a user to use an off-the-shelf Kinect camera as a 3D scanner for producing high-quality 3D scans of small or large objects. With smaller objects, the user has to move it around in front of the sensor while with large objects, the user moves the sensor to scan it.
As said by Shahram Izadi, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, "The amazing thing about this solution is how you can take an off-the-shelf Kinect for Windows sensor and create 3-D models rapidly". The software is available in the Kinect For Windows SDK.
2. Help With Stroke Recovery
Stroke Recovery With Kinect is a project sponsored by Microsoft Research and Seoul National University with the aim of providing a low-cost home rehabilitation solution for stroke victims.
Users will be given exercises that will improve their motor functions. Their activities will be monitored with Kinect’s scanning ability, and a program that helps keep track of their progress.
This allows the patients to recover from home under private care or with family, instead of hospital environments. Their recovery levels can be measured and monitored by the system, and researchers believe the game-like atmosphere generated will help patients recover faster.
3. Translate Sign Language
Researchers in China, in collaboration with Microsoft Research, developed the Kinect Sign Language Translator, a system that can translate sign language into spoken and written language in near real time.
This will allow communication between those who speak sign languages and those who don’t. This is also helpful to people who speak different sign languages – there are more than 300 sign languages practiced around the world.
The Kinect, coupled with the right program, can read these gestures, interpret them and translate them into written or spoken form, then reverse the process and let an avatar sign to the receiver, breaking down language barriers more effectively than before.
4. Retrieve Data Via Gestures
Surgeons in the middle of a surgery may need certain information about their patient and this requires them to interact with non-sterile surfaces which may be detrimental to the surgery. Hence, they need to scrub out or depend on auxiliary team members to extract that info from them.
With GestSure however, they can use gestures to manipulate images via the Kinect, from inside the operating room. Not only does this minimize problems from information transfer, it also saves time by giving surgeons access to the data they need as soon as possible.
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5. Virtual Reality Interaction
The Holoflector is an augmented reality mirror. Behind the mirror is a large LCD monitor and right above the mirror is the Kinect.
When a person stands in front of the Holoflector, the body movement will be captured and transferred onto the mirror. The system can also detect the presence of a foreign object such as a phone you hold in your hand while in front of the system.
It is also possible to add virtual objects into your projected image in the mirror and have them interact with your image. Check out the video for a visual demo of what the Holoflector can do.
6. Hack A System Via Avatar
In a case of life imitating art, security researcher at p0wnlabs, Jeff Bryner, showcased how one can use a 3D avatar to hack into a computer system.
Combining a Kinect, a few hacking tools and a 3D environment, Kinectasploit allows a user to break into a computer’s security system using body gestures. The system works almost like a video game. In one demo, a hacker ‘shoots’ at WiFi targets to break into them.
7. Turn Any Surface Touchscreen-Enabled
Ubi Interactive developed their software, Ubi, which combines your Windows 8 computer, a Kinect and projector to create an interactive touchscreen off any surface.
Basically you can project the system onto any flat surface such as a wall and turn that wall into a touchscreen surface you can interact with. With the Kinect sensor picking up the input, users can make interactions by waving, taping, swiping or zooming on the surface like they would a touchscreen device. No other special setup is needed.
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8. Virtual Clothes-Fitting
Wouldn’t you like to see how a piece of clothing would look on you without the hassle of going to the dressing room? You can, with Fitnect, an interactive dressing room where users can pick out clothing and try them all out virtually.
Here, the Kinect is used to take a scan of a body then they can apply their choice of attire on a screen, letting them quickly check out how a piece of clothing looks on them. This allows for a better online shopping experience particularly when buying clothes.
9. Augmented Anatomical Overlay
The Magic Mirror, developed by Tobias Blum of the Technical University Of Munich, is an augmented reality app for the Kinect that overlays anatomical data such as organs and skeletons on a user.
By standing in front of the Kinect, the user can see in real-time bone structure projected on the area of focus e.g. near the chest or the stomach, much like getting X-ray vision.
Note that it isn’t the user’s actual bone structure being projected, but the device proves valuable as an educational tool for learning body anatomy.
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10. Control Robots With Body movement
In another case of copying from the movies, many users have hacked their Kinect to allow users to control robots via body movement. There are more than a handful of these videos on Youtube where hacked Kinects can be used to copy the movement of limbs with surprising accuracy.
Even NASA has gotten into the game, combining an Xbox One Kinect to control a robotic arm and an Oculus Rift to provide first-person view. NASA hopes to install the system aboard the International Space Station if testing proves successful.