Automated Sentry Turret For Your Secret Lab

There are few things as frustrating when you’re trying to get some serious hacking done than intruders repeatedly showing up without permission. [All Parts Combined] has the solution for you, with a Kinect-based robotic sentry turret to keep them at bay.

The system consists of a Microsoft Kinect V2 connected to a PC, which runs an app to do all the processing, and outputs the targeting information to an Arduino over serial. The Arduino controls a simple 2-axis servo mount with an electric airsoft gun zip-tied to it. The trigger switch is replaced with a relay, also connected to the Arduino.

The Kinect V2 comes with SDKs that really simplify tracking human movement, and outputs the data in an easy-to-use format. [All Parts Combined] used the SDK in Unity, which allows him to choose which body parts to track. He added scripts that detect a few basic gestures, issues voice commands, and generates the serial commands for the Arduino. The servo angles are calculated with simple geometry, using XY coordinates of the target received from the SDK, and the known distance between the Kinect and turret. When an intruder enters the Kinect’s field of view it immediately starts aiming at the intruder’s heart, issues a “Hands Up!” command, and tells the intruder to leave. If the intruder doesn’t comply, it starts an audible countdown before firing. [All Parts Combined] also added a secret disarming gesture (double hand pistols), which turns the turret into an apologetic comrade. All it needs is a Portal-inspired enclosure.

It’s a fun project that illustrates how the Kinect can make complex computer vision tasks relatively simple. Unfortunately the V2 is no longer in production, having been replaced by the more expensive, developer focused Azure Kinect. We’ve covered several Kinect-based projects, including a 3D room scanner and a robotic basketball hoop.

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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.

Third Time’s A Charm For This Basketball-Catching Robot

We all know that version one of a project is usually a stinker, at least in retrospect. Sure, it gets the basic idea into concrete form, but all it really does is set the stage for a version two. That’s better, but still not quite there. Version three is where the magic all comes together.

At least that’s how things transpired on [Shane Wighton]’s quest to build the perfect basketball robot. His first version was a passive backboard that redirected incoming shots based on its paraboloid shape. As cool as the math was that determined the board’s shape, it conspicuously lacked any complicated systems like motors and machine vision — you know, the fun stuff.  Version two had all these elaborations and grabbed off-target shots a lot better, but still, it had a limited working envelope.

Enter version three, seen in action in the video below. Taking a page from [Mark Rober]’s playbook, [Shane] built a wickedly overengineered CoreXY-style robot to cover his shop wall. Everything was built with the lightest possible materials to keep inertia to a minimum and ensure the target ends up in the right place as quickly as possible. [Shane] even figured out how to mount the motor that tilts the backboard on the frame rather than to the carriage. A Kinect does depth-detection duty on the incoming ball — or the builder’s head — and drains pretty much every shot it can reach.

[Shane] has been doing some great work automating away the jobs of pro athletes. In addition to basketball, he has tackled both golf and baseball, bringing explosive power to each. We’re looking forward to versions two and three on both of those builds as well.

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Super Mario 64 As Experienced By Mario

Microsoft’s Kinect, a motion-sensing peripherial originally for the Xbox 360, is almost exactly a decade old now. And in that decade it has expanded from its limited existence tied to a console to a widely-used tool for effective and detailed motion sensing, without breaking the bank. While it’s seen use well outside of video games, it’s still being used to reimagine some classic games. In this project, Reddit user [SuperLouis64] has used it to control Mario with his own body.

While the build still involves some use of a hand controller, most of Mario’s movements are controlled by making analogous movements on a small trampoline, including the famed triple jump. The kinect is able to sense all of these movements and translate them into the game using software that [SuperLouis64] built as well. The trickiest movement seems to be Mario’s spin movement, which appears to have taken some practice to get right.

We appreciate the build quality on this one, and [SuperLouis64]’s excitement in playing the game with his creation. It truly looks like a blast to play, and he even mentions in the Reddit thread that he’s gotten a lot of productive excercise with his various VR and augumented reality games in the past few months. Of course if this is too much physical activity, you could always switch to using your car as the unique game controller instead.

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New Kinect Sensor Switch Focus From Gamers To Developers

Microsoft’s Kinect may not have found success as a gaming peripheral, but recognizing that a depth sensor is too cool to leave for dead, development continued even after Xbox gaming peripherals were discontinued. This week their latest iteration emerged and we can get it in the form of Azure Kinect DK. This is a developer’s kit focused on exploring new applications for this technology, not a gaming peripheral we had to hack before we could use in our own projects.

Packaged into a peripheral that plugs into a PC via USB-C, it is more than the core depth sensor module announced last year but less than a full consumer product. Browsing its 10-page specification (PDF) with comparisons to second generation Kinect sensor bar, we see how this technology has evolved. Physical size and weight has dropped, as has power consumption. Auxiliary capabilities has improved with an expanded microphone array, IMU with gyro in addition to accelerometer, and the RGB camera has been upgraded to 4K resolution.

But the star of the show is a new continuous-wave time-of-flight depth sensor, presented at the 2018 IEEE ISSCC conference. (Full text requires IEEE membership, but a digest form is available via ResearchGate.) Among its many advancements, we expect the biggest impact to be its field of view. Default of 75 x 65 degrees is already better than its predecessors (64 x 45 for first generation Kinect, 70 x 60 for second) but there is an option to trade resolution for coverage by switching to a wide-angle mode of 120 x 120 degrees. Significantly wider than other depth cameras like Intel’s RealSense D400 series or Occipital’s Structure.

Another interesting feature is built-in synchronization. Many projects using multiple Kinect sensors ran into problems because they interfered with each other. People hacked around the problem, of course, but now they don’t have to: commodity 3.5 mm jacks allow multiple Azure Kinect DK to be daisy chained together so they play nicely and take turns.

From its name we were worried this product would require Microsoft’s Azure cloud service in some way and be crippled without it. Based on information released so far, it appears developers have access to all the same data streams as previous sensors. Azure tie-in takes the form of optional SDKs that make it easier to do things like upload data for processing in Azure cloud-based recognition services.

And finally, Azure Kinect DK’s price tag of $399 is significantly higher than a Kinect game peripheral, but it is a low volume product for developers. Perhaps high volume consumer products built on this technology will cost less, but that remains to be seen. In the meantime, you have alternative tools for solving similar problems. For example if you are building your own AR headset, you might use Intel’s latest RealSense camera for vision based inside-out motion tacking.

Kinect Visualizer Demo Gives Winamp A Run For Its Money

Winamp eat your heart out, because thanks to the Microsoft Kinect in the hands of [Samarth] there’s a new way to make your screen dance along with you. He created a music visualizer demo that takes advantage of the 3D depth camera on Kinect by outputting a fun pixelated silhouette and color changing strobe. When there are big high-hat hits or bass thumps the camera feed reacts accordingly (as any good visualizer would). He even uploaded his code for the project just in case anyone would like to take a look at it.

The visualizer utilizes the OpenKinect-Processing library which has provided the backbone to many other similar Kinect art projects. It was specifically created to provide a quicker way for coders to access the raw color and depth data output by Kinect. It’s creator, Daniel Shiffman, has posted a number of tutorials to aid anyone looking to create their own real-time animations as well.

The visualizer demo (see video below) was created as part of Maker Faire Hyderabad which is happening over the weekend. The expo is the city’s first Maker Faire and is set to feature over 200 maker exhibits across multiple disciplines. It’s always great to see maker communities outside of the ones that are closest to you geographically speaking, so hopefully we’ll see many more like [Samarth] taking part in more maker events in the future.

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Microsoft Kinect Episode IV: A New Hope

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.

[via Engadget]