The history of Microsoft Kinect has been of a technological marvel in search of the perfect market niche. Coming out of Microsoft’s Build 2018 developer conference, we learn Kinect is making another run. This time it’s taking on the Internet of Things mantle as Project Kinect for Azure.
Kinect was revolutionary in making a quality depth camera system available at a consumer price point. The first and second generation Kinect were peripherals for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. They wowed the world with possibilities and, thanks in large part to an open source driver bounty spearheaded by Adafruit, Kinect found an appreciative audience in robotics, interactive art, and other hacking communities. Sadly its novelty never translated to great success in its core gaming market and Kinect as a gaming peripheral was eventually discontinued.
For its third-generation, Kinect retreated from gaming and found a role in Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset running “backwards”: tracking user’s environment instead of user’s movement. The high cost of a HoloLens put it out of reach of most people, but as a head-mounted battery-powered device, it pushed Kinect technology to shrink in physical size and power consumption.
This upcoming fourth generation takes advantage of that evolution and the launch picture is worth a thousand words all on its own: instead of a slick end-user commercial product, we see a populated PCB awaiting integration. The quoted power draw of 225-950mW is high by modern battery-powered device standards but undeniably a huge reduction from previous generations’ household AC power requirement.
Microsoft’s announcement heavily emphasized how this module will work with their cloud services, but we hope it can be persuaded to run independently from Microsoft’s cloud just as its predecessors could run independent of game consoles. This will be a big factor for adoption by our community, second only to the obvious consideration of price.
At the Bay Area Maker Faire last weekend, Intel was showing off a couple of sexy newcomers in the Single Board Computer (SBC) market. It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that SBCs are all about simple boards with a double-digit price tag like the Raspberry Pi. How can you compete with a $35 computer that has a huge market share and a gigantic community? You compete by appealing to a crowd not satisfied with these entry-level SBCs, and for that Intel appears to be targeting a much higher-end audience that needs computer vision along with the speed and horsepower to do something meaningful with it.
I caught up with Intel’s “Maker Czar”, Jay Melican, at Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend. A year ago, it was a Nintendo Power Glove controlled quadcopter that caught my eye. This year I only had eyes for the two new computing modules on offer, the Joule and the Euclid. They both focus on connecting powerful processors to high-resolution cameras and using a full-blown Linux operating system for the image processing. But it feels like the Joule is meant more for your average hardware hacker, and the Euclid for software engineers who are pointing their skills at robots but don’t want to get bogged down in first-principles of hardware. Before you rage about this in the comments, let me explain.
Continue reading “Intel’s Vision for Single Board Computers is to Have Better Vision”
The original Microsoft Kinect was a revolution in computer vision. For less than one hundred dollars, the Kinect gave everyone a webcam with a depth sensor. If you’re doing anything with robots, 3D scanning, or anything else where a computer needs to know where it is in 3D space, it’s awesome. These depth-mapping cameras have improved over the years, with the latest and most capable hardware being Intel’s RealSense 3D camera.
Despite being a very capable depth camera, support for Linux and OS X doesn’t exist. Researchers, roboticists and IoT developers are slightly miffed about this, and it seems like Intel doesn’t care about people using their hardware on platforms that aren’t Windows.
Now, finally, that’s changed. A few developers have taken it upon themselves to build a cross-platform library for the F200, SR300, and R200 Intel RealSense depth cameras.
The librealsense library features proper RealSense camera support for Linux, OS X, and Windows and provides all the functionality of the official Intel SDK. This functionality includes native depth, color, and infrared streams, synthetic streams for rectified images, calibration information, and the most interesting feature: multi-camera capture.
The hardware required to use the RealSense camera is somewhat lightweight – any recent laptop should be able to capture depth images with a RealSense camera. The camera itself requires USB 3, though, so you won’t be building a 3D scanner with a RealSense camera and a Raspberry Pi quite yet. Still, it’s the latest advancement for giving robots 3D vision and building cheap, portable 3D scanners.
There is a lot of helpful technology for people with mobility issues. Even something that can help people do something most of us wouldn’t think twice about, like turn on a lamp or control a computer, can make a world of difference to someone who can’t move around as easily. Luckily, [Matt] has been working on using webcams and depth cameras to allow someone to do just that.
[Matt] found that using webcams instead of depth cameras (like the Kinect) tends to be less obtrusive but are limited in their ability to distinguish individual users and, of course, don’t have the same 3D capability. With either technology, though, the software implementation is similar. The camera can detect head motion and control software accordingly by emulating keystrokes. The depth cameras are a little more user-friendly, though, and allow users to move in whichever way feels comfortable for them.
This isn’t the first time something like a Kinect has been used to track motion, but for [Matt] and his work at Beaumont College it has been an important area of ongoing research. It’s especially helpful since the campus has many things on network switches (like lamps) so this software can be used to help people interact much more easily with the physical world. This project could be very useful to anyone curious about tracking motion, even if they’re not using it for mobility reasons. Continue reading “Head Gesture Tracking Helps Limited Mobility Students”
Are you ready to make a utility sink sized pool of water the location of your next living room game console? This demonstration is appealing, but maybe not ready for widespread adoption. AquaTop is an interactive display that combines water, a projector, and a depth camera.
The water has bath salts added to it which turn it a milky white. This does double duty, making it a reasonably reflective surface for the projector, and hiding your hands when below the surface. The video below shows several different games being played. But the most compelling demonstration involves individual finger tracking when your digits break the surface of the water (show on the right above).
There is also a novel feedback system. The researchers hacked some speakers so they could be submerged in the tank, adding a large speaker with LEDs on it in the same manner. When fed a 50 Hz signal they make the surface of the pool dance.
Continue reading “AquaTop: a gaming touch display that looks like demon possessed water”
This image should look familiar to regular readers. It’s a concept that [Chris Harrison] has been working on for a while, and this hardware upgrade uses equipment which which we’re all familiar.
The newest rendition, which is named the Omnitouch, uses a shoulder-mounted system for both input and output. The functionality is the same as his Skinput project, but the goal is achieved in a different way. That used an arm cuff to electrically sense when and where you were touching your arm or hand. This uses a depth camera to do the sensing. In both cases, a pico projector provides the interactive feedback.
There’s a couple of really neat things about this upgrade. First, it has a pretty accurate multitouch capability. Second, it allows more surfaces to be used than just your arm. In fact, it can track moving surfaces and adjust accordingly. This is shown in the clip after the break when a printed document is edited in real time. Pretty neat stuff!
Continue reading “Update: using your forearms as a UI”
We think most would agree that the Microsoft Kinect is a miraculous piece of hardware. The affordable availability of a high-quality depth camera was the genesis of a myriad of hacks. And now it seems that type of data is making an intriguing 3D display possible.
What you see above is a 3D monitor concept that Microsoft developed. It starts off looking much like a tablet PC, but the screen can be lifted up toward the user whose arms reach around it to get at the keyboard underneath. There is as depth camera that can see the hands and fingers of the user to allow manipulation of the virtual environment. But that’s only part of the problem. You need some way to align the user’s eyes with what’s on the screen. They seem to have solved that problem too, using another depth camera to track the location of the user’s head. This means that you can lean from one side to the other and the perspective of the virtual 3D desktop will change to preserve the apparent distance of each object.
Don’t miss the show-and-tell video after the break. As long as there’s only one viewer this looks like a perfect non-glasses alternative to current 3D hardware offerings. Continue reading “Microsoft shows off their transparent 3D desktop prototype”