Kinect Gave Us A Preview Of The Future, Though Not The One It Intended

This holiday season, the video game industry hype machine is focused on building excitement for new PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Ten years ago, a similar chorus of hype reached a crescendo with the release of Xbox Kinect, promising to revolutionize how we play. That vision never panned out, but as [Daniel Cooper] of Engadget pointed out in a Kinect retrospective, it premiered consumer technologies that impacted fields far beyond gaming.

Kinect has since withdrawn from the gaming market, because as it turns out gamers are quite content with handheld controllers. This year’s new controllers for a PlayStation or Xbox would be immediately familiar to gamers from ten years ago. Even Nintendo, whose Wii is frequently credited as motivation for Microsoft to develop the Kinect, have arguably taken a step back with Joy-cons of their Switch.

But the Kinect’s success at bringing a depth camera to consumer price levels paved the way to explore many ideas that were previously impossible. The flurry of enthusiastic Kinect hacking proved there is a market for depth camera peripherals, leading to plug-and-play devices like Intel RealSense to make depth-sensing projects easier. The original PrimeSense technology has since been simplified and miniaturized into Face ID unlocking Apple phones. Kinect itself found another job with Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset. And let’s not forget the upcoming wave of autonomous cars and drones, many of which will see their worlds via depth sensors of some kind. Some might even be equipped with the latest sensor to wear the Kinect name.

Inside the Kinect was also one of the earliest microphone arrays sold to consumers. Enabling the Kinect to figure out which direction a voice is coming from, and isolate it from other noises in the room. Such technology were previously the exclusive domain of expensive corporate conference room speakerphones, but now it forms the core of inexpensive home assistants like an Amazon Echo Dot. Raising the bar so much that hacks needed many more microphones just to stand out.

With the technology available more easily elsewhere, attrition of a discontinued device is reflected in the dwindling number of recent Kinect hacks on these pages. We still see a cool project every now and then, though. As the classic sensor bar itself recedes into history, others will take its place to give us depth sensing and smart audio. But for many of us, Kinect was the ambitious videogame peripheral that gave us our first experience.

13 thoughts on “Kinect Gave Us A Preview Of The Future, Though Not The One It Intended

  1. I remember that, after the boom of the kinect, some sensor manufacturers started to develop CMOS sensors with four cell types instead of the three classic (RGB). The fourth one was for infrared, thus integrating in a single element the two cameras used in the original kinect, and solving the parallax problem.

    But I wonder what have happen to those CMOS sensors… Are they still being manufactured? Also, the idea can have other applications: imagine using it for croma keying… reviving the incredible sodium vapor process used in so many films with so incredible quality, but for electronic devices…

  2. Indeed. I enjoyed it with Fruit Ninja and then enjoyed it as a 3D scanner and then briefly as an SLS ghost device. That was probably the most freaky thing. Either there were many anomalies or it was really good at picking up ghosts lol. Still a wonderful bit of tech that hit the hacker market at just the right time and price point to not worry about borking it up. Fun memories :)

    1. The Kinect from the xbox one is just usb 3 with a dumb connector, and it basically drops into windows 10 like a plug and play device through you need some additional software to interpret all of the sensors.

      Heck, If you want to solder on a 12v connector for external power, you can literally rip out the existing cable and directly replace it with a usb 3 -B cable.

      I am looking to pick one up near me because it is a cheap 1080p webcam with a threaded mount at a time when webcams are hard to find anywhere in stock.

  3. It really did all start from the Adafruit bounty for an open source driver for the Kinect. Once that was won, I think it took only a week, Kinects were flying off the shelves and getting mounted on robots, used for making 3D scanners, counting visitors to a product display, in art exhibits and many many more.

    It was a sad day when Apple purchased PrimeSense and shut it all down. It then ONLY took them about 10 years to finally use the technology in their phone, technology Google and PrimeSense showed built into an Android Tablet months before the purchase and shutdown.

    But as often happens, innovation continues and new technology fills the voids left by corporate greed and protectionism.

  4. Our vintage Xbox Kinect (pre-Primesense) got a “second life” years after my kids stopped playing with their video game console. Thanks to PC software able to fuse multiple LiDAR scans into a single 3D model (and aftermarket USB adapters), my son CNC machined a wooden sculpture depicting two ice skaters holding hands. Too bad Microsoft”s Game Division lost interest in gesture-based UIs that got casual gamers off the couch, but still… Kudos to Microsoft for not thwarting hackers’ efforts to reverse-engineer and repurpose these affordable 3D scanners. Thousands of Makers benefited from this openness.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.