With eight million units shipped to retailers worldwide, Microsoft's Kinect platform can safely be called a success.
However, given the number of hacks posted online in the weeks and months following its release, one can't help but wonder how many of these devices were sold to folks less interested in playing games than in using the innovative technology to do things like, say, make it appear as though their hands and arms are grotesque mutations, as reported by Joystiq last week.
New Kinect hacks are popping up every day on YouTube, ranging from those you might expect-porting the device for use with a wide range of games (a USC researcher showed us how to use Kinect to play World of Warcraft while a home-based geek demonstrated how the device can be used to control Super Mario Bros.)-to more philanthropic pursuits, like using it to help teach people sign language.
However, the majority of Kinect hacks fall into the category of odd but somehow fascinating tricks.
A YouTuber tinkered with the camera until he was able to make himself (vaguely) resemble Japanese superhero Ultra Seven. In his video he creates a virtual superhero suit for himself, shoots energy beams from his arms and lasers from his forehead, and throws a weird object attached to his head that boomerangs back and reattaches itself.
Meanwhile, a researcher at the University of Technology in Munich mapped his body to that of a human skeleton captured via a CT scan. The result: He can move around the screen and bend backward while watching a peephole into his torso that acts as a real time window to his ribcage and spine.
Another team of German researchers from the University of Bundeswehr mounted Kinect to a laptop and put it on a remote control car which was then able to precisely navigate a small obstacle course set up in their office hallways. Engadget explains that the team had already done something similar using its own software and a real car.
One of my favourites comes from the resident geniuses at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who monkeyed with Microsoft's gadget until they were able to fabricate a pretty good version of the computer interface famously used by Tom Cruise in the film Minority Report. It appears as though they amped up the device's sensitivity to the point that it easily recognizes individual fingertips, allowing the user to play with items on screen in much the same way as one might interact with objects on a touch screen tablet or phone.
However, the most exciting hack I've run across so far-in part because it's something that could be easily transformed into an experience readily available to mainstream consumers-is an experiment from digital advertising agency Razorfish. Engineers used the company's DaVinci platform commonly seen in commercial spaces to allow users to draw and manipulate objects that are governed by artificial physical laws, such as gravity and magnetism. Very cool stuff. A Kinect puzzle game that makes use of similar mechanics can't be far off.