When Microsoft released it's Kinect system for the Xbox 360 it was hoping to give a boost to the console and sell plenty of games. It certainly hit that target with some brisk sales, but the real surprise was that the Kinect's powerful technology also became a useful tool for programmers. Within a week of its release, the Kinect had become a fantastic high-tech DIY toy with a life of its own and it was all thanks to a worldwide network of hackers and a bounty of cash.
This article is one in a series of Instructables articles about DIY technology. The full list can be seen here.
For many years, video game controllers were straightforward: push a joystick to move and hit a button to jump or fire. Successive generations of gaming consoles added more buttons, another joystick, and a d-pad or two, but for the most part gamers were still moving sticks around and pushing on buttons. The evolution of the peripheral had a slow and steady pace.
In 2006, Nintendo shook this up with its release of the Wii console. In addition to the buttons and joysticks, the controllers could also detect motion. So instead of button pushes for actions, gamers were mimicking what was happening on the screen. Swings of the controller became bowling, baseball, and even dancing. These intuitive controls enabled lots of non-gamers to play, even becoming popular with senior citizens, and pushed sales of the console past 70 million worldwide.
Two groups were paying close attention to the Wii: Microsoft and hackers. Microsoft saw the potential in freeing gamers from controllers and started the Kinect project, originally known as Project Natal. With the Kinect, a pair of cameras record video and depth and are able to combine the information to precisely see the player's body position. Now no controllers were needed at all and gamers could play just by moving around.
Meanwhile, hackers saw the Wii's controllers as wonderful tools that were dying to be put to use for things besides games, such as head-tracking, virtual whiteboards, and controlling a 15-ton robotic arm. One such hacker, Johnny Lee, made such cool use of the Wii that he was hired on by Microsoft for the Kinect.