Month: April 2012

Kinect Hardware

The Kinect for Windows SDK takes advantage of and is dependent upon the specialized components included in all planned versions of the Kinect device. In order to understand the capabilities of the SDK, it is important to first understand the hardware it talks to.

The glossy black case for the Kinect components includes a head as well as a base, as shown in the following Figure

Kinect Device

The head is 12 inches by 2.5 inches by 1.5 inches. The attachment between the base and the head is motorized. The case hides an infrared projector, two cameras, four microphones, and a fan.

There is not recommend ever removing the Kinect case. In order to show the internal components. However some body did. On the front of Kinect, from left to right respectively when facing Kinect, you will find the sensors and light source that are used to capture RGB and depth data. To the far left is the infrared light source. Next to this is the LED ready indicator. Next is the color camera used to collect RGB data, and finally,
on the right (toward the center of the Kinect head), is the infrared camera used to capture depth data. The color camera supports a maximum resolution of 1280 x 960 while the depth camera supports a maximum resolution of 640 x 480.

On the underside of Kinect is the microphone array. The microphone array is composed of four different microphones. One is located to the left of the infrared light source. The other three are evenly spaced to the right of the depth camera.

If you bought a Kinect sensor without an Xbox bundle, the Kinect comes with a Y-cable, which extends the USB connector wire on Kinect as well as providing additional power to Kinect. The USB extender is required because the male connector that comes off of Kinect is not a standard USB connector. The additional power is required to run the motors on the Kinect.

If you buy a new Xbox bundled with Kinect, you will likely not have a Y-cable included with your purchase. This is because the newer Xbox consoles have a proprietary female USB connector that works with Kinect as is and does not require additional power for the Kinect servos. This is a problem—and a source of enormous confusion—if you intend to use Kinect for PC development with the Kinect SDK. You will need to purchase the Y-cable separately if you did not get it with your Kinect. It is typically marketed as a Kinect AC Adapter or Kinect Power Source.
Software built using the Kinect SDK will not work without it.

A final piece of interesting Kinect hardware sold by Nyco rather than by Microsoft is called the Kinect Zoom. The base Kinect hardware performs depth recognition between 0.8 and 4 meters. The Kinect Zoom is a set of lenses that fit over Kinect, allowing the Kinect sensor to be used in rooms smaller than the standard dimensions Microsoft recommends. It is particularly appealing for users of the Kinect SDK who might want to use it for specialized functionality such as custom finger tracking logic or productivity tool implementations involving a person sitting down in front of Kinect. From experimentation, it actually turns out to not be very good for playing games, perhaps due to the quality of the lenses.

Hardware Requirements:

– Computer with a dual-core, 2.66-GHz or faster processor
– Windows 7–compatible graphics card that supports Microsoft DirectX 9.0c capabilities
– 2 GB of RAM (4 GB or RAM recommended)
– Kinect for Xbox 360 sensor
– Kinect USB power adapter

A Multitouch Projector You Can Wear From Microsoft

Microsoft Research is on a bit of a roll lately with their future-tech demonstrations. At the end of last month they showed off a Holoflector augmented reality mirror, a physical object sharing projector called Illumishare, and an interactive transparent 3D desktop using Samsung’s transparent OLED.

This week Microsoft has revealed another device for the future, one which looks to be an extension of Carnegie Mellon’s HCI Institute Omnitouch project. What Microsoft have done is to clip a Kinect motion controller and pico projector together, and mount them on your shoulder. The combination of devices produces a projection on any given surface that the user can interact with just like a touchscreen.

Obviously the parts needs to be miniaturized, but this wearable multitouch projector could one day replace the need to actually carry a phone or tablet. Instead, you’d just clip a small device to a shirt pocket or jacket, and project your screen when you need it.

The projector doesn’t just use the Kinect to capture input though, it also helps determine the size of the surface being worked on. If it’s a wall, you may get a 10-inch projection, but if you hold a small notebook up, the image is adjusted to fit within its bounds. That’s both clever and useful if you want what you’re doing to remain a little more private.

And what’s the other benefit of using Kinect? It allows for gestures, so for certain actions you may not even need a display. For example, make a “call someone” gesture, say the name you want to call, and the person’s phone rings.

There’s no plans to bring this to market any time soon, but there’s a lot of potential for this setup to become a future replacement for today’s phones and tablets. It’s also another example of the diversity of Kinect, and the potential it has to form the core of many future Microsoft hardware devices.

How Kinect for Windows Works

Unveiling a new Kinect device specifically for Windows was a surprise. Developers have already been working with an official Microsoft beta SDK for Xbox Kinect units for noncommercial use on Windows machines since June, and unofficially using community-developed open-source drivers long before that.

The new Kinect for Windows devices cost more: $250 against the $100-150 retail for the current Xbox Kinect devices. Kinect for Windows general manager Craig Eisler says that the cost difference is mostly because on Xbox, Kinect is “subsidized by consumers buying a number of Kinect games, subscribing to Xbox Live, and making other transactions associated with the Xbox 360 ecosystem.” Hence the bump—although later this year, Microsoft says it will make Kinect for Windows available to students, educators, schools, libraries and museums for $150, the same price as Kinect for Xbox.

Besides just reading “KINECT” in lieu of “XBOX 360,” Kinect for Windows devices also have different firmware and other features from their Xbox cousins. While Kinect for Xbox was designed to recognize whole bodies from across a room, Kinect for Windows has something called “Near Mode,” allowing its camera “to see objects as close as 50 centimeters in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 centimeters,” according to Microsoft.

The idea is that commercial developers—big companies you know, like Google, Adobe, Electronic Arts, Autodesk, as well as more obscure companies developing specialized applications for medicine or education—will build applications using voice or gesture recognition specifically for the desktop PC, portable laptops and tablets, or other Windows implementations besides the living room. Used in those contexts, near-range sensitivity matters much more than recognition at a distance.

Kinect then becomes a general-purpose NUI (natural user interface) interface for the PC, where “PC” is broadly construed for the post-Wintel era. Windows 8′s Metro interface is already optimized for touchscreens and touchpads; Kinect turbocharges Windows’ voice capture and adds full-motion gesture and facial recognition to the mix. (The only thing it’s missing—so far—is the ability to track eye movements.)

The Kinect for Windows unit also offers a modified USB connector and better protection against noise and interference. Both tweaks are designed to better incorporate the Kinect hardware to the PC environment—even if the basic hardware looks identical to the original.

At its limit, you could imagine Kinect sensors in other form factors: some designed for portable use, like a handheld souped-up Wiimote, others integrated into all-in-one PCs the way that webcams are now. Microsoft had nothing like this to announce, but SuperSite for Windows blogger Paul Thurrott wondered about it out loud during his keynote livechat with ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley.

Microsoft’s been talking about expanding the use of natural user interfaces in computing for years, even delivering innovative products like the giant multitouch-powered Surface and incorporating better touch and speech recognition into plain-vanilla Windows. Besides Kinect, though, it’s mostly been an R&D-driven future-of-computing hobby.

Even the phrase “natural user interface” still clings clumsily to Steve Ballmer’s tongue. He can’t communicate enthusiasm for the possibilities of NUIs like Bill Gates is able to—astonishing, considering that Ballmer can fire himself up into an almost-awkwardly over-the-top giddiness about almost anything else that Microsoft does.

Ballmer never thought he’d be in this position—not only porting a gaming peripheral to his beloved Windows machines, or even opening it up for commercial development by other software companies, but owning it, taking control of it, and positioning it as a key component in the future of the company.

Considering that a little over a year ago, Microsoft was threatening to sue and/or prosecute anyone who wanted to develop for Kinect on a PC, it’s a remarkable turnaround.

It’s also remarkable that a company that became a giant by selling its software to consumers and hardware partners is now effectively giving its software away for free—and making its money back by selling its own branded hardware.

The commercial development kit and licenses Microsoft has put together to build Kinect for Windows doesn’t follow the Open Kinect model. Instead, it offers something much more controlled. Developers can’t use open drivers or the cheaper Xbox Kinect for commercial projects. Plus, as the moniker “Kinect for Windows” suggests, they’re required to use it on machines running Windows 7 or 8. Finally, even noncommercial projects—still officially permitted on the Xbox Kinect devices—aren’t licensed to use software other than Microsoft’s official commercial SDK to write code for the Kinect for Windows hardware.

“They were smart to adopt what we were doing and turn it into a business for themselves,” Torrone said of Microsoft. They built the Kinect Accelerator to seed projects. They featured ones they liked on their website, rebranded the widespread adoption of the device “The Kinect Effect.”

“It got away from them for a moment, but they adapted themselves to it and took a leadership position. They had to.”