Kinect hackers presented with legitimate opportunities in 3D interface design

Hacking the Xbox 360 Kinect controller is all the rage right now, but it's not exactly sanctioned by Microsoft. The future for 3D gesture-based controls, however, looks extremely promising and Belgian software company Softkinetic launched a content developer program for engineers looking to make a legitimate entry into the field.

Ever since an open source PC driver was devised to turn Kinect into a standard USB device, amateur developers have been coming up with clever new ways of using the "controllerless controller."

In just one month's time, DIY developers have turned Kinect into a 3D live rendering camera, a controller for a self-piloting quadracopter, a Windows 7 peripheral, an invisible piano keyboard, and dozens of other tools with more appearing daily. They're all brilliant examples of how 3D "free space" can be used as a controller.

The problem with all this clever hacking is that Microsoft's position on it is unsteady at best.

In early November, a $2,000 "bounty" was offered for the first person to hack the device and release its drivers as an open source project. At the time, Microsoft was rather displeased. Company representatives said Microsoft did not condone modifications of its products and that there were "numerous hardware and software safeguards designed to reduce the chances of product tampering."

Yet, after these clever hacks started rolling out, Xbox spokesman Alex Kipman said in a radio interview that the open source driver "hack" was actually built upon a quality of Kinect that was intentionally left unprotected. He also went on to say that fans using this hack would not be legally punished.

Maybe it's not outright approval, but it definitely appears to be condonation.

Softkinetic, meanwhile, has developed its own 3D real-time gesture recognition platform similar to Kinect that has already been put to use in real-world applications like the Scorcerer's Apprentice promotional game seen in the video below, and the Mayafit digital fitness training system.

Today, Softkinetic is issuing a call for Kinect hackers and aspiring 3D interface developers alike to check out the brand new B2C Content Partner Program. The company's main product is called iisu, a 3D interface middleware compatible with all types of 3D cameras: structured light (like Kinect uses) time of flight, or stereoscopic. iisu comes as a cross-platform SDK that's compatible with Adobe Flash, Unity 3D and 3DVIA Virtools development environments, and developers who enroll in the program will also get a prototype 3D camera to start experimenting with.

"The consumer market for gesture based application is in its infancy, and the opportunities are endless for those who are able to build immediate consumer projects," said Michel Tombroff, CEO of Softkinetic. "We want to provide the tools and support at a minimum price to the most talented shops out there while diligently supporting early adopters." 

Softkinect won't be fully launching the developer program until GDC in February of 2011, but today, the company is accepting its first participants. We will be sitting down with the company at CES in a couple of weeks to get a closer look at what this middleware is capable of.

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