Microsoft appears to be taking the step some of its rivals – the likes of Sony and Nintendo – failed to do, and that’s to acknowledge that something it made has been re-imagined beyond its original purpose. The above video pretty much says it all.

Remember, it might not have been this way. Aside from direct control of the Kinect hardware, the shield of aggressive intellectual property laws in countries like the United States covering reverse engineering, to say nothing of a bucket of patents, Microsoft could easily go after hackers, open source libraries, and creative misuse of their designs. Or, they could simply ignore it.

Instead, Microsoft reps showed up at the Art && Code 3D event held recently at Carnegie Mellon. I understand they want to see more creative use in game titles, too – which could in turn lead to DIYers publishing on the Xbox 360. And then, they release a video that demonstrates that they see value in applications from which they may not directly benefit. (Indeed, while the cameras in the picture are all Microsoft hardware, the not-for-profit OpenNI initiative has already led to non-Xbox hardware used for similar applications.)

I’m still trying to unravel exactly where Microsoft is in all of this, but the video seems, at least, the right message. And the kind of amazing thing here is that the scenarios presented – the same ones that look fairly silly when they’re limited only to R&D – are real. This isn’t marketing’s idea of what people might do, conceived in some imaginary science fiction world. This is what we’re seeing every day on YouTube. And that alone is worth mention.

If you do want to find deeper meaning, though, I suggest you turn to the lyrics of The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind.” You don’t hear those words in the more chillaxed-out a cappella version playing in the background, so here you go — it’s very “gestural” and “naturally interactive”:

With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
If there’s nothing in it
And you’ll ask yourself
Where is my mind


Tip of the hat to Elliot Woods of friend-of-the-site Kimchi and Chips.

Update: In fairness, what the heck is up with diffusing a bomb? Seriously, if you need that, please don’t ask us, ‘kay?

  • Joshua goldberg

    It was an amazing conference. Somehow the ms folks and the free software zealots all got along and formed a mutual appreciation society. If this is the future of ms, it's good news. 

  • Elliot Woods

    Part of me thinks this video should be clips of other people's hacks but with the background slow motion high five music + voiceover thanks + microsoft post production value. That might actually make people cry a little and say 'oh it's alright microsoft (sob), we're glad you care (wipe tear)'

    But that might not fit their brand image right now.

    The actual things they show seem a little unrealistic given Kinect's accuracy, perhaps because this is a future vision video (suggested by the video grading and cg effects).

    @Joshua – +1! was lovely meeting people stateside at artandcode. I'm sorry I didn't catch up with you / everyone as properly as i'd liked to. 

    Thanks to Golan+team.

  • regend

    it looks so good when it's compartmentalized into a short commercial but what this doesn't show is the effort the hacking community has put into creating the hacks. mainly because the OS's used to create the hacks are not microsoft based. i spent more money on pizza and beer when hacking the Kinect and trying to write Processing code. this was when i was unemployed and making ZERO income. i'm still wondering, why hold back on an HD version of the Kinect when we live in a NTSC (1080p) state of mind?

  • Jorge from Madrid

    Maybe it's just me, but I have mixed feelings about it. I mean:

    They really are ready to make a change? Is the CG and "production value" (like Elliot Woods pointed) a good thing to popularize the hacks, or a comporation predating freelance and open source efforts?…

    Maybe both… but I can't wait to see their next move

  • Ed

    Microsoft's success comes, to a large extent, from their pursuit of the "platform". It's one of the few things they understand well.

  • experimentaldog

    I would not try to defuse a bomb with a Kinect. Oops It lost user1 booooooom!  "Sorry Billy, your code just wasn't good enough."  "I'm sorry Sally, you failed your recital because you missed some notes in the Cello Suite".  I know that many people, especially marketing teams, love to fantasize about how the Kinect is going to provide solutions for some of these areas.  As mentioned, this ad is way too cinematic.  Part of me wants to see spin off episodes of these narratives where something ironically bad happens because it wasn't field tested properly sort of like an old episode of The Outer Limits.  It's preaching to the choir a bit.  I would think that this ad is more of an afterthought, since Kinect hacks are here there and everywhere these days on all sorts of platforms.  They should emphasize more existing DIY aspects and show the many approaches you can use.  They should show footage of users cursing at their own code and later the glorious moment when it finally works where they show it off and become the cool kid on the block.

  • franz

    obviously MS doesn't mention the kinect's huge latency. The violin player is sooo unrealistic.

  • Computo

    When I was attending CMUs music conservatory, I did a few experiments with their virtual reality system at the time, Alice, which was pretty damn cool for 1997. It was a kind of Alice in Wonderland type virtual world, that i would guess was eventually developed for some military training purpose… Maybe the Cheshire Cat became Osama Bin Laden. I can only imagine the fun they must be having these days, with toys like this available for next to nothing. It is not shocking that MS would show up there considering the tradition that CMU has of graduating genius level thinkers/artists, and all the government/corporate sponsorships. The Mars Rover build was even viewable by the public at the time through the doors of its shed. It was a pretty awesome place, I miss it a lot.

    That said, I think you some of you guys are downplaying the potential here. The scene of the kid in physical rehab, making a video game of it, is what spoke to me from this, not Billy Lazyfingers playing air piano. Probably aren't gonna see brain surgery using Kinect, but what is the measure of success with such a thing?

  • Rich

    Microsoft started to accept the hacker scene very quickly – they made the expect 'do not condone hacking' stance at it's release, bringing the Kinect driver hacking reward up by a few thousand.

    Then, once the drivers arrived, creative programmers started making stuff – not games, just demos of what is possible. Videos of these demos went viral, impressing everyone giving the Kinect an amount of free publicity that Microsoft didn't produce itself. On a public radio show (November 2010), they went on record no one would be chased up for hacking the Kinect. They even have the cheek to say the Kinect was 'open' in the first-place, noting that it uses a USB connector.

    The best account of it, with relevant links to podcasts and stuff, can be found in this post:

  • Gilbert Bernstein

    It's worth noting that the basic research to make the Kinect work, particularly the research that went into making the full-body motion tracking work, was done by researchers at MSR.  MSR is arguably the best industrial Computer Science research laboratory around right now, particularly for computer vision and human-computer interaction.  The people who developed the original versions of this technology are well connected to academic research communities, who tend by and large to share the things they come up with.  (that is the whole point of publishing research papers.)

    So, even before the Kinect came out, there were labs up here in Seattle and other places that got early access to the hardware, and early versions of the SDK.  To some degree, hacking the Kinect was a path greased by the needs of the academic community.