Let's hope the device is less short-sighted than the inventors
November 5, 2010 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday was the day that Microsoft Kinect for the XBox 360 launched (warning: site "works best with" proprietary, embrace-and-extendware--here's a slightly more accessible YT demo). Like with the Wii, it's possible the most lasting effect on the open community is the excellent commodity hardware. To that end, Adafruit offered a $1000 reward to the first open source code that could work with the hardware. Microsoft was displeased, citing both law-enforcement and product safety groups as co-enforcers. The bounty is now $2000.
posted by DU (116 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the comments in the last link:
Oh my, Microsoft is having a a tamper tantrum!
I don't think I can improve on that.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:50 AM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


This picture is horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. And #7 in the series, which I can't link to directly, is even more so. Good heavens.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:02 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


"What Grug make?"
"Grug make fire! Cook mammoth!"
"Grug fire good! Ogg warm cave!"
"NO! Grug fire cook mammoth! Not heat cave!"
"But Ogg cave warm with Grug fire!"
"GRUG FIRE ONLY COOK MAMMOTH! OR GRUG SMASH OGG!"
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:06 AM on November 5, 2010 [53 favorites]


I'm more excited about the open source opportunities than the Mii-too crap Microsoft churns out.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm trying to figure what business interest Microsoft has in keeping the specification secret - after all, they could sell a bunch for these other uses.

I suppose it must be so that third parties don't make knock-offs and undercut their sales.
posted by exogenous at 6:09 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, here. Just in case you need to wake up screaming every night from here to eternity.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:10 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought product tampering meant poisoning tylenol or food and putting it back on the shelves not modifying something you purchased. Writing a driver isn't even that. Does the spokesperson think that by using that wording they can plant the idea that writing your own driver for hardware you purchased is equivalent to criminal activity that bears no resemblance to it? Alternately, they could be just stupid. It's hard to decide between stupidity and malice when judging the motivations of others so let's be charitable and say they are idiots.
posted by Tashtego at 6:11 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, editorialize much?
posted by smackfu at 6:12 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


So I guess Wolfdog doesn't like cats much?
posted by ericost at 6:13 AM on November 5, 2010


iFixIt has a teardown for your enjoyment.
Either Microsoft can release the driver specs for this, others will. Their choice.
Other cool hardware: home-made motion sensitive FPS gun.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:14 AM on November 5, 2010


Is this the product where they're using a guitar riff from the Gang of Four in the commercial? Irony is bedridden in a coma, somewhere, with an IV drip.
posted by gimonca at 6:15 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Grug, use fire to kill Kinectimals! Please, Grug! Evil!

They probably would prefer the news focus being on "amazing new game modes" enabled by their gizmo rather than "hacker community finds use for Kinect, even though it sucks for gaming."
posted by ecurtz at 6:17 AM on November 5, 2010


The Kinect seems very cool from a technology perspective, but mostly useless in gaming. Could make for an interesting "Dance Hero" type game but beyond that I'm not seeing much utility.

If it were sensitive enough to track your fingers individually, that could be pretty useful - combine that with head tracking and 3D glasses, it could get interesting. But that's a ways off.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 AM on November 5, 2010


Mii-too crap Microsoft churns out.

Not even sure what this refers to. I think it would be fair to accuse Sony of ripping off the Wii, but from the previews when this was first, first announced, it seems like a pretty slick piece of tech. The trick, like for the Wii, will be finding 3rd-party developers to do something interesting with it rather than figure out how to turn it back into a joystick.
posted by yerfatma at 6:29 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Could make for an interesting "Dance Hero" type game.

Two are already available at launch.
posted by demiurge at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2010


Dunno , I'm not interested in this myself but it got a pretty decent writeup in the times and the folks at hacker news seem to like it. Afaik wii doesn't have full body tracking or voice recognition.

But Microsoft sucks right so it's got to be crap.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Product Safety? Can someone explain that?
posted by empath at 6:36 AM on November 5, 2010


Just in case you need to wake up screaming every night from here to eternity.

Tigers with people faces! TIGERS WITH PEOPLE FACES! AAAAAAAARGGGHHHH!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:36 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


No no, ad hominem, Microsoft doesn't want to let you use it in any way other than the officially approved way, even when you own it, so it's not crap but MS still kinda sucks.
posted by echo target at 6:37 AM on November 5, 2010


And people think Apple is close-minded?
posted by Edison Carter at 6:39 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, editorialize much?

If the mods agree, they can change "proprietary, embrace-and-extendware" to "proprietary plugin" but there's no other editorializing in this post.
posted by DU at 6:41 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, if this thing gets hacked we would be able to use the device as a 3D video recorder?! that is super cool.
posted by kuatto at 6:41 AM on November 5, 2010


So wait a minute...

Microsoft hired Johnny Chung Lee, who became internet-famous after posting all those YouTube videos of projects that hacked and made use of Wii controllers. Then they put him on the Project Natal (Kinect) team.

Now they're complaining that people are talking about doing the same type of thing with THEIR product?

Kind of ridiculous, if you ask me...
posted by pjdoland at 6:42 AM on November 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


You don't need to know anything you don't already know
Or do anything you don't already do.

(From the advert)
I find that a slightly scary sentiment, to be honest.
posted by Grangousier at 6:43 AM on November 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm trying to figure what business interest Microsoft has in keeping the specification secret - after all, they could sell a bunch for these other uses.

Most video game hardware is sold at a loss initially with the hopes that software sales will make up the difference. I'm sure each Kinect game has an additional license fee on top of the regular Xbox 360 license fee for the developer, so, if you buy a Kinect and don't buy any games, you're generating a net loss for Microsoft.

They certainly could sell the Kinect on its own with a driver package, but I'd bet it would cost three or four times as much just for the hardware. Also you'd have to consider the other less tangible costs for Microsoft, such as marketing another hobbyist device, brand confusion, etc.

I don't agree with Microsoft's thuggish "we're going to call the cops on you dirty hackers" response and agree that if you buy a piece of hardware you should be able to do whatever you want with it, but I can see where they're coming from in terms of their business model.
posted by mmcg at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


there's no other editorializing in this post

The title?
posted by smackfu at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Product Safety? Can someone explain that?

After putting on my paranoid lawyer hat, this is what I got: What if someone modified the Kinect or made unlicensed software for it, such that a person playing a game was encouraged to perform unsafe motions or assume unsafe positions, resulting in a fall, strain, or other injury. This could occur, for example, because the game explicitly requested such a position or because the driver was poorly written and the only way for the driver to recognize what should have been a safe position was for the player to assume an unsafe one.

Yeah, super tenuous at best, and Microsoft could probably have worked with the hobbyist developers to throw up a big "this is unlicensed software. Microsoft had nothing to do with it. NO WARRANTY. etc, etc" screen.
posted by jedicus at 6:48 AM on November 5, 2010


And people think Apple is close-minded?

I think it's more that they're both in an industry that has become less and less about innovation and more about control. Still, Microsoft isn't claiming that independant software on the XBox leads to terrorism and drug dealing, but it might just be that Apple has blocked their FTO in the area of Orwellian machinations.

Is it time for a group of disgruntal employees to form Fairchild Semiconductor yet?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:49 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm not sure why the focus is immediately on "what else can we do with it." This seems like a much harder technology to extend than the WiiMote, which is basically just a pointer by the time the signal gets into the computer. A lot of the processing for Kinect is in the XBox itself.

Anyways, I think it's cool, and want to play with it. Unfortunately this (and Wii Fit, and Wii Bowling) all have issues with my small living room with a coffee table in the middle of it.
posted by smackfu at 6:50 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why the focus is immediately on "what else can we do with it." This seems like a much harder technology to extend than the WiiMote, which is basically just a pointer by the time the signal gets into the computer. A lot of the processing for Kinect is in the XBox itself.

Because there's a lot of shit you can do with it, if you want to hack around with robots, etc.
posted by empath at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2010


"Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products," a company spokesperson told CNET. "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.

This is the response that's getting everyone worked up against Microsoft? The one people are referring to as a "temper tantrum"? This is standard boilerplate legal protection mumbo-jumbo. It's a blanket statement designed to absolve themselves of legal responsibility when someone hacks the hardware to make a self-driving car.
posted by rocket88 at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


"You don't need to know anything you don't already know
Or do anything you don't already do."


That should be engraved in stone and marble, the first thing you see as you enter the Microsoft campus. It says boatloads about our lives and times, and the Microsoft way in general. In fact, it really sums up just about everything I see in American life today. Depressing, and the thought that someone inside of Microsoft got paid more to come up with that gem, than I've made all year, makes me want to hop on a tesseract and bail outta this nightmare.
posted by dbiedny at 6:58 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


And people think Apple is close-minded?

But but but Microsoft!
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:08 AM on November 5, 2010


Could make for an interesting "Dance Hero" type game

Could you use this machine to make a "Sex Hero" type game?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


And people think Apple is close-minded?

Yes they do. They think the same of Microsoft as well, and for good reason. This may be absolutely shocking, but in some ways they aren't and in some ways they are, just like Apple, who spout out absurdity on a regular basis.
posted by juiceCake at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're referring to the fact that you don't have to learn new buttons for a new controller because you are the controller. This is a boon for people who can't be arsed to learn a new controller layout or who are uncomfortable using the 360 controller. They're not telling you to CONSUME AND PROCREATE ffs (although I understand that the IR tracker can see if you're one of those yuppy fucks out of They Live!).
posted by longbaugh at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2010


Man, Slashdot looks all different and blue today.
posted by Artw at 7:23 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


It appears about 90% of Metafilter is unable to talk about Microsoft without acting like a bunch of peevish 13 year old children.

It doesn't matter if it's Silverlight, Windows, X Box - whatever. The comments are across the board mean-spirited and, frankly, fucking stupid. It has always been this way and probably always will be.

We can master sexism and race, but you go near the big M, you're asking for trouble.

This post is bad and the comments are bad and the title ris crap editorializing, as is the remark about Silverlight.

Attention internet: grow up.
posted by kbanas at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


tried kinect at a store last night, the lag between my movements and the on screen avatar's movements was embarrassing and it would do weird random things. It's kind of sad that microsoft is selling this thing as super amazing, because it is nowhere near that.
posted by djduckie at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2010


I can't believe that there are people who are actually complaining about the wording in this post who aren't lawyers for Microsoft. It's 100% a recitation of the facts, and the title is barely negative.
posted by empath at 7:30 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


But but but Microsoft!

Whoever said that Microsoft was "open-minded"? Really. Who.
posted by melt away at 7:32 AM on November 5, 2010


Despite (or because of?) my complete inability to dance, I really want to get Dance Central. Though I'll probably wait for a while before making the Kinect commitment.
posted by kmz at 7:35 AM on November 5, 2010


Yeah it sucks microsoft doesn't seem to want me to be able to hook this up to vi and cank out ROR code Tom Cruise style.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


As has been the case with Microsoft forever, their hardware's solid*, their software's crap (and their legal team's full of dicks). It stands to reason that the Kinect hardware has tons of potential, and that people want to use it without being encumbered by what Microsoft wants them to use it for, because there's more potential there.

*Cue jokes about red-rings, etc, but Microsoft has a history of making great mice and keyboards, and I'd bet 95% or more of red-ringed Xboxes came from improper ventilation. So many people put their consoles in a tight space, or stacked upon each other, or on a thick carpeted floor, etc.
posted by explosion at 7:40 AM on November 5, 2010


Ah, here. Just in case you need to wake up screaming every night from here to eternity.

Holy shit, it's like Jocelyn Wildenstein and the rakshasa from 1st edition AD&D had a child with the power to pursue and devour its victims in their dreams. I doubt I'll ever buy a Kinect but if I do I'm getting this game just for the horror value. Resident Evil 4 eat your parasite-infested heart out.

This is the response that's getting everyone worked up against Microsoft? The one people are referring to as a "temper tantrum"? This is standard boilerplate legal protection mumbo-jumbo. It's a blanket statement designed to absolve themselves of legal responsibility when someone hacks the hardware to make a self-driving car.

I don't think so. The threat to involve "law enforcement" probably means that the kinect uses encryption to protect the secrets of its inner workings, so that any attempt to hack it to make it more useful than Microsoft wants it to be would be regarded as circumvention of a technical protection measure. I forget the details but I'm pretty sure this is a crime in at least some of the world's stupider IP jurisdictions.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:42 AM on November 5, 2010


This seems like a much harder technology to extend than the WiiMote, which is basically just a pointer by the time the signal gets into the computer. A lot of the processing for Kinect is in the XBox itself.

It's not the pose estimation part that's exciting, it's the cheap depth camera, and that part is almost entirely in the hardware (the camera just spits out depth, like magic). It used to be that if you wanted a depth camera it would cost like $6000, so if you can walk into a best buy and get one for $100, that's pretty exciting.
posted by Pyry at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wait, cute animals are scary now? I hope none of you accidentally come across Kung Fu Panda on TV or something. You might be traumatized for life.
posted by kmz at 7:53 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two cameras, four microphones, a Marvell SoC, 512MB of RAM, a motor driver and actuator and three or four years of intensive embedded system development including dozens of novel algorithms.... for $150? You're god damn right MS doesn't want you to figure out how to use it; the hardware probably costs two-three times that alone, not even counting the development effort. Once people hack it everyone and their dog is going to have a fascinating/cool project to use this thing with, which doesn't require an XBOX or any of their shitty software, and MS is going to lose a shitfucktonne of money.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:57 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Product Safety? Can someone explain that?

It is rigged to explode if your software doesn't pass it the correct 2048-bit encrypted code at a regular interval, or if opened as the people at IFixIt found out the hard way.
posted by daniel_charms at 7:57 AM on November 5, 2010


It is in fact short-sighted to consider only your own short-term profits instead of wider use or other business models.

I'd be surprised if Microsoft isn't considering different business models for the technology in the Kinect. For example, it would make a lot of sense for them to release a Kinect SDK in their developer tools at some point, as there certainly are potential applications outside of gaming. But Microsoft's business is software, not hardware, so it's sort of naive to think they'd have any desire to support people using the Kinect outside Microsoft's software platform. We could have a big debate on the merits of open source model versus proprietary software, but let's not pretend to be shocked that Microsoft is in the proprietary software camp.
posted by blue mustard at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2010


OK, so frothing aside: do we think we'll get some kind of programmable API for this? I had a quick search yesterday and saw nothing but rumours about Windows 8 support, maybe. Some DirectX interface or something? Anyone?

We use standard consumer technology to create devices to assist people with disabilities, so this would have lots of potential uses for us. So not a games company. Nor XBox developers.
posted by alasdair at 8:01 AM on November 5, 2010


OK, so frothing aside: do we think we'll get some kind of programmable API for this?

Very much doubt it. Microsoft uses standard interfaces like USB because it's easy and cheap to get good parts, not to hook it up to your computer. Same as how Nintendo used Bluetooth for the WiiMote, even though they have no plans to make it PC compatible. The standard interfaces just make it easier for hackers to get it working on PC hardware.
posted by smackfu at 8:04 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm not sure why the focus is immediately on "what else can we do with it." This seems like a much harder technology to extend than the WiiMote, which is basically just a pointer by the time the signal gets into the computer. A lot of the processing for Kinect is in the XBox itself.

Uh, well, the Wiimote's interesting data is actually *not* a pointer by the time it gets to the computer. It *is* true that the IR camera pointer part gives you back (X,Y) locations of the brightest points it sees, which can be naively interpreted as a pointer. But, the accelerometer data the Wiimote gives back requires substantial processing to be useful for anything at all.

I haven't played with a WiiMotion Plus yet. But, even it is only going to give rotational data.

Processing Wiimote motion data is as hard as processing any accelerometer-based motion data.
posted by Netzapper at 8:04 AM on November 5, 2010


I can't believe that there are people who are actually complaining about the wording in this post who aren't lawyers for Microsoft. It's 100% a recitation of the facts

"embrace-and-extendware?" Silverlight is a lot of things, but it's not an example of embrace and extend. Silverlight does not embrace a widely used standard, extend it in a proprietary way, then use those differences to disadvantage competitors. So that's just factually inaccurate.

the title is barely negative.

Barely negative, but also stupid. Less short-sighted than the inventors? I'm not sure it's the inventors' fault unless Johnny Chung Lee, the staff of ZCam, and the other actual inventors were involved in the decision to keep it locked down. I suppose you could blame them for getting in bed with Microsoft in the first place, but I'm not so sure you can say that Microsoft will so inevitably turn to lock down that anyone who works for them is blameworthy. They've become more open in a lot of ways (not all ways and often imperfectly, but more open nonetheless). Witness the recent release of F# under the standard Apache 2.0 license.

So, yeah, it's inaccurate and unnecessary editorializing. The post would've been better posted in a more accurate, neutral way.

Anyway, this is dumb. There are lots of solutions here. Microsoft could have the hobbyist devs put big disclaimers on everything. If they're worried about losses from selling the Kinect below cost to people who won't buy games, then they should sell a more open 'developer' model at a profit. Clearly there's a market for this stuff, and Microsoft is being stupid for not capitalizing on it.
posted by jedicus at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2010


It's kind of sad that microsoft is selling this thing as super amazing, because it is nowhere near that.

Well, clearly the 5 seconds you tried it in the middle of a brightly lit store with people standing around you and walking past fully exercised how it will work for game nerds alone in their parents' dimly-lit basements.

As has been the case with Microsoft forever, their hardware's solid*, their software's crap

What hardware does Microsoft make? Everything else for the X-Box is outsourced. And if DadHacker is representative of the people who worked on the code, I'd say it has a chance.
posted by yerfatma at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What hardware does anyone make? Practically everything is outsourced to places like FoxConn. Chip manufacturers might be the last true manufacturers.
posted by smackfu at 8:11 AM on November 5, 2010


If they're worried about losses from selling the Kinect below cost to people who won't buy games, then they should sell a more open 'developer' model at a profit. Clearly there's a market for this stuff, and Microsoft is being stupid for not capitalizing on it.

I don't disagree, but isn't it more likely they looked at that and the price/ risk was off-putting? Sony used to sell the NetYaroze (or whatever the hell it was called) for like $600 bucks when the PS1 was $199. I'm with everyone who wants hardware to work on open standards, use common interfaces and be well-documented so hackers can hack, but let's not act like this product exists in a vacuum. The X-Box's value to Microsoft is in selling games and XBL licenses. If this product were open to hacking, every employee at Microsoft would be employed stopping 13 year old dicks from their latest hardware exploit to grief people online.
posted by yerfatma at 8:12 AM on November 5, 2010


GRUG FIRE ONLY COOK MAMMOTH! OR GRUG SMASH OGG!

That's it. From now on, I'm going to refer to Microsoft as "Grug"

And not just because of Ogg-Vorbis
posted by mmrtnt at 8:12 AM on November 5, 2010


What hardware does Microsoft make?

They made the first IR mouse, the Intellimouse Explorer. I got one the first week they came out. I still use it at work every day. The mouse is 11 years old.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2010


The only part of Kinect that in any way appeals to me is the voice prompt stuff, if only to ask to run movies like I'm on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

The motion sensor stuff is the exact opposite of everything I want in video games. Their purpose in my life is a way to sit down, nearly motionless, and veg the hell out.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:15 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, so frothing aside: do we think we'll get some kind of programmable API for this?

Yes, and the person who makes it available will get $2000 from Adafruit. I give it 6 weeks at most.
posted by DU at 8:19 AM on November 5, 2010


The motion sensor stuff is the exact opposite of everything I want in video games. Their purpose in my life is a way to sit down, nearly motionless, and veg the hell out.

I have always liked how you can kick ass in Wii Tennis by sitting still and just moving your hand at the wrist vs. actually swinging your arm.
posted by smackfu at 8:23 AM on November 5, 2010


[A few comments removed. The subject is interesting, some of the personal opinioneering is indeed a bit annoying and would be more at home on your blog than in a post, DU, but I'm okay-ish with just leaving it if everyone can drop it and put their energy into discussing the ostensible topic of the post instead of the framing.]
posted by cortex at 8:28 AM on November 5, 2010


I don't disagree, but isn't it more likely they looked at that and the price/ risk was off-putting?

I don't think so. The Kinect costs Microsoft about $150, which is basically what they're selling it for. A hobbyist version sold for $200 would be profitable and not out of reach for hobbyists. It wouldn't even have to be different, hardware-wise, or even come with any special. It'd just come with a less restrictive license.

OK, so frothing aside: do we think we'll get some kind of programmable API for this?

Well, sure. Microsoft makes a developer kit for use with the Xbox. It has an API and does stuff like skeleton tracking for you out of the box. Did you mean a general-purpose API for anything with a USB port? I don't know. I'm not sure if there's a market for using this with general purpose PCs, since you don't normally have the space or the desire to stand up and wave your arms around when using a regular computer. I could see the voice recognition part, maybe.
posted by jedicus at 8:29 AM on November 5, 2010


Yes, of course Microsoft's posturing about use of the hardware is stupid. My assumption is they have very ambitious plans for this class of user interface device, and that somewhere in about 2013 they'll have a Kinect-like user interface for Windows, for things other than games. Some asshole product manager at Microsoft no doubt thinks they can control the conversation right now. They're wrong, of course.

Hurf-durf aside, Kinect (aka Natal) is a very interesting advance in consumer user interface technology. The launch on the Xbox isn't going well, everyone's complaining about lag and dumb games and how much space the setup takes. But it's a $150 working device that can detect body position. It's a very impressive bit of computer vision technology and I'm looking forward to what comes these next few years.
posted by Nelson at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2010


This device isn't for game nerds, who require precision and short response times to control their games.

It's for kids, and parents, and parties- and I suspect it'll be great for that. Dance games, virtual pet games, river rafting- all of these demos look great, and will probably work fairly well.

I'm ok with microsoft trying to weld the hood of the car shut via encryption, complex hardware, and so forth- I don't like it, but it's a choice they can make as a business decision. Where they wander off the reservation is when they start to invoke "law enforcement" to enforce this business decision. It's pretty clear that criminalizing reverse engineering is a particularly shaky part of the DMCA, and (I suspect) something that hasn't been extensively tested in court. I'd be willing to bet that they lose far more than they gain if they keep ratcheting up the "Don't hack our stuff or we'll throw you in prison" rhetoric.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2010


I quite like the idea of head tracking for games like Operation Flashpoint and I'm interested in the demo video for Forza 4 with the walkaround facility. I'm positive that as time goes by there will be more interesting games made for Kinect as designers realise the freedom that it gives them. The fact that Microsoft has something to do with it is of no interest to me at all but then again I have no investment in slagging them off.

For now I still like some of the fitness related software I've seen - with the body tracking I reckon it'll do good to teach form in exercises and that's a lot better than the Wii manages. Kinect doesn't replace anything - just augments it.

And speaking of augmentation - introduce a Neuromancer-style cyberspace hacking minigame in the new Deus Ex and I'll have a Kinect the day that gets released. Loving the look they've given that so far and fingers crossed they don't drop the ball.
posted by longbaugh at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm guessing there will be support for this in XNA, lack of games will kiss this dead. It is going to have to work on a PC cuz, you know, you can't run VS2010 on an XBOX.

Now it's starting to sound interesting, imagine the community games written for this.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:38 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm ok with microsoft trying to weld the hood of the car shut via encryption, complex hardware, and so forth- I don't like it, but it's a choice they can make as a business decision.

I realize this is going to be an extreme position (at this point in history) and I'm not going to get into a big back and forth about it, but I do want this viewpoint expressed so: I'm not OK with that. Obviously it's legal. What I don't think it is is moral and/or ethical.

If you physically own a piece of property, yes you can keep people out. But if you sell it to someone else you have to be willing to expose the ideas inside. You can't use thousands of years of hard-won, public knowledge, rearrange it (or even make a tiny advance) and then tell everyone else that only you are allowed to know these things, taking that to the grave with you. If you've benefited from the rest of society and history, you have an obligation to repay that.

And that's how patents and copyrights are actually supposed to work, btw. It is absolutely NOT ownership. It is a limited (in time and scope) monopoly granted as an inducement to get people working on things. When Microsoft (or whoever) files a patents, what they are (supposed to be) saying is "here, society, you can have this thing I made" and we as a society are saying "thanks, for all your hard work, here you can be the only one to use it for N years as a reward".
posted by DU at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't get it. Tiger cubs are already cute. Why did they give them those... rictuses?
posted by interrobang at 8:56 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


And that's how patents and copyrights are actually supposed to work, btw.

Trade secrets are a legally-recognized form of intellectual property with no time limit. Are you saying that they are against public policy?
posted by exogenous at 9:01 AM on November 5, 2010


Remember the iOpener? That was another sweet piece of hardware that was being sold at a loss as a vehicle for services. The open source community fought for (and eventually won) the right to mod the boxes as they saw fit. The end result: Cancelled orders, raised prices and eventually the product was killed off. Be careful what you wish for.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:05 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm actually interested in picking a Kinect up, though not so much for the motion control. It's the voice control that I find...intriguing.*



*Not $150 worth of intriguing though. More like $60-ish.



posted by longdaysjourney at 9:08 AM on November 5, 2010


echo target: Microsoft doesn't want to let you use it in any way other than the officially approved way, even when you own it,

That means you don't own it.
posted by Malor at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2010


I'd be interested in playing with Kinect, but since Microsoft built an Xbox that repeatedly red-ringed, I'm not willing to give them the chance to put another product in my house until it's been tested by a couple of years worth of people.

The concept seems cool, I'll give them that, but their hardware brought me so much frustration over the last generation I just can't see myself embracing it until its proven.

(Still, I'd love to see what hobbyist could do with it. XBMC, one of the finest programs I ever used, was the direct result of someone experimenting within their machines.)
posted by quin at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2010


I don't know anything about anything, but it seems obvious to me that Kinect, if it works, is intended to be a foundational part of the UI for Windows 9 or whatever and so Microsoft would hate hate hate it if those evil Linux folks got their grubby little hands on the underlying software and incorporated it into their UI first. I dunno what I'm talking about, so maybe someone can explain how wrong I am.

I have zero interest in Kinect as a gaming device, but I'm excited by its potential as an alternative input mechanism for folks with fine-motor-skills impairment. A good friend of mine can't use a computer because he can't type or reliably move a mouse, but he can speak and wave his arms around; a Kinect-type UI tailored to his specific impairments would finally enable him to enjoy the Internet with the rest of us, I think.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:24 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


warning: site "works best with" proprietary, embrace-and-extendware--here's a slightly more accessible YT demo

Thank goodness for that warning! I almost watched it in proprietary Silverlight instead of proprietary Flash. Hell, if we're picking sides, considering how much more functional Moonlight is than Gnash, I'd say MS is the better proprietary steward.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Microsoft seems to be moving away from Silverlight on the web, FWIW.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this the product where they're using a guitar riff from the Gang of Four in the commercial? Irony is bedridden in a coma, somewhere, with an IV drip.

Well, it is a great riff. And the lyrics are appropriate...

The problem / Of leisure / What to do / For pleasure

Problem solved!
posted by Joe Beese at 9:38 AM on November 5, 2010


...Microsoft would hate hate hate it if those evil Linux folks got their grubby little hands on the underlying software and incorporated it into their UI first.

They would indeed hate that, but that's not what's at issue here. The challenge is to write your own software to interface with the *hardware*. That is, you buy just the hardware, kind of like buying a keyboard or whatever (but obviously way more complex than that) and you want to hook your own software to it. Microsoft is agin it!
posted by DU at 9:59 AM on November 5, 2010


I'm not OK with that. Obviously it's legal. What I don't think it is is moral and/or ethical.

That I can agree with. I don't think we can lay it at the feet of MS, since most every other large US company tries to do the same (whether that's a lack of ethics or a result of the US legal system is for someone smarter to consider). I'm waiting for one large, non-startup company to take a shot on hackers, home-brewers and the MAKE folks and make something open. I do think there's a moral issue involved. First off, if I drop $150 bucks on your product and you go out of business, I'd like to be able to do something with it. If it weren't for emulators and nerdish collectors, we'd have already lost the ability to play thousands of videogames that represent a great deal of effort, all because companies can't be arsed to spend their death throes doing something positive like handing over internal specs to the world at large.

It also fosters the next generation of engineers (fun podcast about teaching kids to hack). I'm not willing to declare Idiocracy here yet, but we're like two generations away from no one knowing how to fix a car in this country except for a permanent underclass we keep around for getting their hands dirty.

But most of all I think things should be open because I'm getting pretty close to killing some suit over their stupid decisions. It has driven me insane for years that the DVD players I bought and ostensibly own won't listen to me when I want to skip to a menu. So you can imagine how pleased I was last Sunday when in the middle of driving my car tried to call Onstar so they could talk to me about my expiring subscription. If I had more brains, I would have crashed the thing into the nearest light pole and sued GM.

Actually, the car is a good example. I love it, but the radio is messed up. Ever since the OS 3.1 or so on my iPhone, the iTunes integration doesn't work properly anymore. I'm fairly certain I could fix it myself: the stuff is written in C# and near as I can tell the problem is just that the iTunes XML format changed. I might even be willing to give up my warranty for the ability to tinker with the radio. While that will never happen, there is some hope: out of frustration one of the people who developed the radio software mailed me a couple of files a while back. Put them on a USB stick, insert into car's port, start car, wait, power off car and open the driver's door = upgrade.

Cars and similar hardware are becoming so expensive and complex I would like to see companies legally required to open source the code involved. Why should we take Toyota's word for it that their braking software works correctly? Let me run a test suite. For that matter, why is Toyota using proprietary braking software at all? Shouldn't all cars be using the best-of-breed software with the most testing done on it? Don't call safety features competitive advantages.

It's all a pipe dream because companies own senators and I don't. How do we hack them?
posted by yerfatma at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hmm, if I could convince my wife that I was giving up the warranty as a moral issue, there'd be one less objection to the supercharger.
posted by yerfatma at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2010


OK, so here's the thing I mean/want:

Microsoft Kinect SDK

Welcome to the Microsoft Kinect SDK! This provides:
  • A C# library, System.Kinect. This allows you to discover and iterate plugged-in Kinect devices, and hook high- and low-level events from them like "recognition" and "movement" in your programs.
  • A redistribution package CAB/EXE/MSI that you can supply to end-users from Windows XP upwards that will enable Kinects plugged into their boxes to be used by your software. This is not required for Windows 7 Service Pack 2 onwards.
  • Sample code.

    That sort of thing. C#, Windows messages, C++, whatever, you get the picture. Do we think we'll get something like that, oh knowledgeable ones?

  • posted by alasdair at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2010


    Kinect IR grid video. So cool.
    posted by smackfu at 10:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


    > They made the first IR mouse, the Intellimouse Explorer.

    Pretty sure that IBM's ScrollPoint was before that; mine has a copyright in the late 1990s on it. I'd use it today if the drivers still worked properly with XP.
    posted by scruss at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2010


    A redistribution package CAB/EXE/MSI that you can supply to end-users from Windows XP upwards

    Doubtful. MS's plans for Windows 8 already includes camera driven gestures and voice commands. MS will most likely not want this backported for financial and practical reasons. There will be OS interface changes in Win8 that support this and MS wont support them in XP or Vista or even 7, the same way they dont support Directx10 in XP or IE9 in XP.

    Also, if you look at the Kinect hardware its too costly and too powerful for PC gesture uses. MS is probably writing new APIs and pushing out either their own hardware or a hardware spec for camera-based controls. I'd rather be able to buy a Lenovo with a built in low-cost "Kinect" (2 cameras and a couple mics with appropriate controllers) than buying a $150 thing to attach to it.

    I'm sure the talented hackers of the world will get Kinect to work on any OS, but without decent backend video processing and expertly written apps, I think we'll find it lacking, the same way your USB based Rock Band guitar isn't revolutionizing spreadsheets or web browsing.
    posted by damn dirty ape at 10:42 AM on November 5, 2010


    Looking at Kinect through IR Goggles - interesting stuff is about a minute in. Shows the dot-field that is invisbly projected.
    posted by jenkinsEar at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2010


    Even more information on how it works
    posted by DU at 11:54 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I expect this guy's right & most of the interesting things the Kinect does are actually done by software running on the XBox. Which turns this into more of a PR stunt for Adafruit & the open source hardware community than the funding of a useful project. Which is OK, it was a target of opportunity & she took the shot that came along. But I don't expect there'll be anything significant that develops out of this unless somebody sits down & writes a whole system library that implements the same functions that XBox does to use the data that comes from the Kinect hardware, which is a much bigger undertaking than just an API for the device.
    posted by scalefree at 12:15 PM on November 5, 2010


    I love how Microsoft spends hundreds of millions of dollars developing this hardware (another $500M on advertising!), comes up laughably short on the detection algorithms, and now we stand on the threshold of some enthusiast hacker open-sourcing it, and eventually maybe some guy in a basement developing superior detection software.

    Apart from that, I am excited to see what can come out of this. I bet there are dozens of robotics and vision researchers literally slack-jawed in anticipation.
    posted by tybeet at 12:18 PM on November 5, 2010


    Microsoft has a lot of smart people working there... I wouldn't laugh at their algorithms.
    posted by smackfu at 12:23 PM on November 5, 2010


    I wouldn't laugh at their algorithms.

    I would.
    posted by tybeet at 12:26 PM on November 5, 2010


    comes up laughably short on the detection algorithms

    Are you basing that on any actual data or just some cranky people on the Internet? I know video game users are typically the most level-headed and slow-to-complain folks, but it might be early days yet. Nah, I'm sure you know best.
    posted by yerfatma at 12:30 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Somebody has already broken their TV while using Kinect.
    posted by kmz at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2010


    "Pigs fired at random when I was just winding up."
    (My favorite complaint about Kinect's imprecision, from Wired's review.)
    posted by chortly at 1:11 PM on November 5, 2010


    I wouldn't laugh at their algorithms.

    I would.

    Well, we don''t have much to compare it to. I imagine the larger issue is that the Kinect running at a chaotic convention is going to be a lot more buggy than it is running in living room. It probably doesn't help that its running on something as old and relatively weak as the 360. Computer vision is still a tough nut to crack and works with the assumption that lighting isn't a mess and there aren't too many distractions. From the reviews I've read so far, the device works pretty well in homes.

    Sony worked around this problem by illuminating the sphere on top of the Move controller, which is smart, but at the end of the day its only really seeing that one point in space while Kinect is seeing thousands of points via the map it projects reflecting off surfaces. They're both neat technologies, but the Kinect is less "Wii too" than the Move. Not sure which one will win out with consumers. The Move and the Wii have the flexibility of also being controllers with buttons while the Kinect has the Wow factor going for it.
    posted by damn dirty ape at 1:20 PM on November 5, 2010


    Kinect IR grid video. So cool.

    But how bright is that IR emitter? Looking at iFixit's teardown, it appears to be driven with a power MOSFET and cooled with a peltier-effect device, heat spreader and a fan. Bright enough light and it's bad for your eyes even though you can't see it.

    It's spread out, not concentrated like an IR laser, but if you keep butterflies as pets, keep 'em out of the Kinect room.
    posted by morganw at 1:43 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Not sure which one will win out with consumers.

    I think you mean "which one Wiill Wiin out with consumers".

    I'll get me coat.
    posted by kmz at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2010


    but if you keep butterflies as pets, keep 'em out of the Kinect room.

    That would be the best knowledge base article ever.
    posted by smackfu at 1:54 PM on November 5, 2010


    I dunno, DU— that guy assumes that the depth camera works based on intensity, but given the projected dot field, I'd guess it's based on parallax. Correlating the image from the IR camera with the known dot-pattern to figure out the parallax of each patch of dots is a reasonable thing to be able to do with that amount of CPU, especially if the pattern has a specific form that makes it easier to search, or if some of the dots are modulated in some way. Once you've done this to get a coarse depth map, you can track individual dots frame-by-frame to get higher (spatial and temporal) resolution information.
    posted by hattifattener at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2010


    exogenous said: Trade secrets are a legally-recognized form of intellectual property with no time limit. Are you saying that they are against public policy?

    Trade secrets only receive protection against industrial espionage. They are not protected against someone buying the product, figuring out how it works, and using the product however they like (i.e. reverse engineering). If Pepsi figures out the formula to Coke and starts selling it tomorrow, all the Coca-Cola company can legally do to stop them is shrug and say "well, it was nice while it lasted".* In direct contrast, a patented product is fully protected against reverse engineering, but only for 20 years- everyone knows how the patented product works, but no one is allowed to reproduce it for that time period.

    Public policy is that no government protection is designed to provide complete control over a product for eternity. Both patents and trade secret protection provide a way for the public to move the protected product into the public domain, whether through time or ingenuity. Microsoft is claiming the benefits of both with the consequences of neither. It remains to be seen whether they'd actually try to enforce these claims.

    *Okay, they could pay them millions to shut up about it, but that's not a legal issue.
    posted by Maxson at 2:15 PM on November 5, 2010


    Thanks, damn dirty ape, that's helpful.

    But Also, if you look at the Kinect hardware its too costly and too powerful for PC gesture uses. Generally assistive technology users expect to pay more for equipment - so $150 would be an absolute bargain - and gestures are more important if, say, you can only move your nose or one finger!
    posted by alasdair at 2:47 PM on November 5, 2010


    I'm guessing that for similar reasons, Kinect development is not possible for XNA (indie) developers. This is ever so more tragic because judging by the launch games, only Harmonix (with Dance Central) has any idea how to do full-body gaming. Most developers seem to be thinking that Kinect is some kind of replacement for a gamepad, which it is not, and at this point are at loss how to make a game which is any fun to play. Performing motions with your body in order to launch pre-recorded animation leads to huge latency, mainly because completing the gesture with your body is slower than moving your fingers (gamepad), or moving your hand (wii).
    posted by ikalliom at 3:20 PM on November 5, 2010


    I'm with longdaysjourney and bitteroldpunk. I actually bought a Kinect (havent' hooked it up yet) primarily as an alternative input device. The Wii left me cold so I don't imagine I'll enjoy the Kinect games much more. John Gruber of Daring Fireball talks a lot about the magic of the direct manipulation interface of the iPad and iPhone and bemoans the lack of an equivalent for Apple TV. Well, this is it - it's direct manipulation of your TV interface, the 10-foot version of an iPad. I think that's awesome. I love my iPad and I expect I'll love the Kinect too.
    posted by zanni at 1:45 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


    But apparently Apple doesn't see it my way ...
    posted by zanni at 1:48 AM on November 7, 2010


    A challenger appears? Could certainly be fake, but doesn't seem worth the effort as a prank.
    posted by ecurtz at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2010


    Up to $3k now
    posted by DU at 5:24 AM on November 9, 2010


    Open source Kinect camera driver now available for download
    posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on November 10, 2010


    We have a winner - $3K to Hector Martin and another $2k dontated to the EFF.
    posted by jenkinsEar at 12:49 PM on November 10, 2010


    Creating 3D Holographic Videos with Microsoft Kinect - this is actually rather cool, though it does remind me of the episode of TNG where they create the shape of an invisible monster on the holodeck from it's shadow.
    posted by Artw at 7:08 PM on November 14, 2010


    Roundup of kinect results so far

    Hopefully a few skeptics are now onboard with attempts to close the device as being objectively short-sighted.
    posted by DU at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2010


    Kinect on a Roomba
    posted by hattifattener at 2:34 PM on November 18, 2010


    Microsoft now says Kinect was left open by design.
    posted by kmz at 3:38 PM on November 20, 2010


    But that goes against everything that random unnamed spokesperson CNET badgered for a comment said!
    posted by Artw at 6:08 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Microsoft now says Kinect was left open by design.

    Well, it was. If you read the blog posting of the first couple of guys who reverse engineered the driver they found no crypto or other tricks holding it back. If this was a Sony or an Apple device you'd have no drivers, and a horde of online personalities telling us why this is good for the consumer.
    posted by damn dirty ape at 8:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Also kinecthacks.net has videos of all the recent kinect hacks. The pinboard, super mario video, dysmorph cat, and Win7 mouse are worth checking out.
    posted by damn dirty ape at 8:42 AM on November 28, 2010


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