Can Microsoft Win Big by Freeing the Kinect?

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Microsoft may find it has a big hit on its hands with the Kinect if it lets the DIY movement hack into the guts of the Kinect to unleash its potential to do some pretty remarkable things. And it looks like that after a bit of initial leeriness, the company is doing just that.

The New York Times has an excellent article about how the DIY movement has already taken to the Kinect in a big way, and making the device do many things that Microsoft never dreamed of.

The article describes how Oliver Kreylos has connected the Kinect to his PC and is creating rotatable holographic images with it. The Times then notes:

"Mr. Kreylos is part of a crowd of programmers, roboticists and tinkerers who are getting the Kinect to do things it was not really meant to do. The attraction of the device is that it is outfitted with cameras, sensors and software that let it detect movement, depth, and the shape and position of the human body."

On the very day that Microsoft released the Kinect, Adafruit Industries and Make magazine got together to offer a $3,000 prize for anyone who created open source drivers that would allow it to connect to PCs.

At first, according to CNet, Microsoft seemed not to be amused, and appeared to issue a veiled threat to those who would hack into the Kinect. Microsoft told CNet:

"Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products. With Kinect Microsoft built in numerous hardware and software safeguards designed to reduce the chances of product tampering. Microsoft will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant."

Microsoft has since backed off on that threat, and seems to welcome this kind of interest in Kinect. Craig Davidson, senior director for Xbox Live at Microsoft told the Times:

And Alex Kipman director of incubation for Xbox Live, told National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation that Microsoft specifically designed the Kinect with an open USB port to allow PCs to be able to get at the Kinect's sensors. He added that Microsoft plans to work with universities to make sure that the Kinect can be used in many ways:

"And now that the product has volume, we will start increasing that academic program, which we have through Microsoft Research, where at the end of the day, we're excited about this technology."

Helping people hack into the Kinect in any way possible can only help Microsoft. It will help fuel an entirely new market for Kinect, and give it a tremendous amount of buzz. That will help the company's bottom line --- and will help the rest of us by potentially unleashing some remarkable uses of the Kinect as well.

This story, "Can Microsoft Win Big by Freeing the Kinect?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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