Microsoft Discontinues Kinect, Again

The Kinect is a depth-sensing camera peripheral originally designed as a accessory for the Xbox gaming console, and it quickly found its way into hobbyist and research projects. After a second version, Microsoft abandoned the idea of using it as a motion sensor for gaming and it was discontinued. The technology did however end up evolving as a sensor into what eventually became the Azure Kinect DK (spelling out ‘developer kit’ presumably made the name too long.) Sadly, it also has now been discontinued.

The original Kinect was a pretty neat piece of hardware for the price, and a few years ago we noted that the newest version was considerably smaller and more capable. It had a depth sensor with selectable field of view for different applications, a high-resolution RGB video camera that integrated with the depth stream, integrated IMU and microphone array, and it worked to leverage machine learning for better processing and easy integration with Azure. It even provided a simple way to sync multiple units together for unified processing of a scene.

In many ways the Kinect gave us all a glimpse of the future because at the time, a depth-sensing camera with a synchronized video stream was just not a normal thing to get one’s hands on. It was also one of the first consumer hardware items to contain a microphone array, which allowed it to better record voices, localize them, and isolate them from other noise sources in a room. It led to many, many projects and we hope there are still more to come, because Microsoft might not be making them anymore, but they are licensing out the technology to companies who want to build similar devices.

3D Scanning A Room With A Steam Deck And A Kinect

It may not be obvious, but Valve’s Steam Deck is capable of being more than just a games console. Demonstrating this is [Parker Reed]’s experiment in 3D scanning his kitchen with a Kinect and Steam Deck combo, and viewing the resulting mesh on the Steam Deck.

The two pieces of hardware end up needing a lot of adapters and cables.

[Parker] runs the RTAB-Map software package on his Steam Deck, which captures a point cloud and color images while he pans the Kinect around. After that, the Kinect’s job is done and he can convert the data to a mesh textured with the color images. RTAB-Map is typically used in robotic applications, but we’ve seen it power completely self-contained DIY 3D scanners.

While logically straightforward, the process does require some finessing and fiddling to get it up and running. Reliability is a bit iffy thanks to the mess of cables and adapters required to get everything hooked up, but it does work. [Parker] shows off the whole touchy process, but you can skip a little past the five minute mark if you just want to see the scanning in action.

The Steam Deck has actual computer chops beneath its games console presentation, and we’ve seen a Steam Deck appear as a USB printer that saves received print jobs as PDFs, and one has even made an appearance in radio signal direction finding.

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Your Vacuum Cleaner Follows You

There are several projects you can imagine where it would be useful to have a robot follow you. For example, we’ve always wanted luggage that would trail us at the airport and we’ve seen several coolers that will follow you. [Madmax95] apparently dream of having a medical cart following a patient, though, and that’s good too. But how do you do it? [Max’s] method was to strip down a Roomba and build a work table and electronics on it. An Arduino controls the motor and communicates with a PC. The PC reads video from a Kinect camera on the robot and uses special tracking software to follow the patient.

We could easily imagine all of this project except the tracking. That depended on a service called Nuitrack. There is a free version that only works for 3 minutes, but it costs if you want to use it practically. However, it would still be cheaper than rolling your own if your time has value.

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This Eyeball Watches You Thanks To Kinect Tracking

Eyeballs are often watching us, but they’re usually embedded in the skull of another human or animal. When they’re staring at you by themselves, they can be altogether more creepy. This Halloween project from [allpartscombined] aims to elicit that exact spooky vibe.

The project relies on a Kinect V2 to do body tracking. It feeds data to a Unity app that figures out how to aim the eyeball at any humans detected in the scene. The app sends angle data to an Arduino over serial, with the microcontroller generating the necessary signals to command servos which move the eyeball.

With tilt and pan servos fitted and the precision tracking from the Kinect data, the eye can be aimed at people  in two dimensions. It’s significantly spookier than simply panning the eye back and forth.

The build was actually created by modifying an earlier project to create an airsoft turret, something we’ve seen a few times around these parts. Fundamentally, the tracking part is the same, just in this case, the eye doesn’t shoot at people… yet! Video after the break.

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Left: kids stomping spiders projected on a driveway. Right: the setup.

Make This Halloween A Spider-Stomping Good Time

We can count on one hand the number of times that we haven’t needed a coat on Halloween night around here. Even if it was fair and sunny the day before, you can count on Halloween being appropriately windy, cold, and spooky. Trick-or-treating only keeps a kid so warm, and we would have loved to happen upon a house with a spider-stomping sugar-burning good time of a game going on in the driveway.

[Kyle Maas] built this game a few years ago, and it has proved quite popular ever since. It’s so popular, in fact, that they have to have someone on duty with a vaudeville hook to yank spectators off the playing field. The point is to stomp as many spiders as you can in a set amount of time, though you only need to stomp one to win. It can handle one to four players, depending on the size of the projection, but [Kyle] says it’s kind of hard to track more than two at a time.

The setup is fairly simple, provided you can reliably affix your projector to something sturdy. [Kyle] used a Structure sensor for the 3D scanner, but you could easily use a Kinect instead. Conversely, the calibration was challenging. [Kyle] ended up using a DSP math trick known as the inverse bilinear transform to be able to calibrate the system using the 3D scanner itself.

If you’re more into scaring the children, just rig up a coffin bell. Either way, don’t forget about our Halloween Hackfest contest, running now through Monday, October 11th. There are more details over on IO. While you’re there, why not check out the list of entries?

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.