Geo Week News

August 7, 2012

Why the Kinect matters

Yesterday, I met my new neighbor for the first time. His name is Kevin. He’s maybe 22 years old. Just got married and moved in next door in our little portion of the great middle of nowhere that is rural Maine with his new wife. He wants to be a preacher. (Or maybe a pastor. I can’t remember the difference.) He goes to Bible school. He obviously knows nothing about 3D data capture. 

When I start to explain to him what I do – talking about lasers that bounce off of stuff and create something called a point cloud, blah, blah – he stops me and says, “Oh, you mean like what the Kinect does?”


For those of you who slander the Kinect as a “toy” and wonder why anyone would care about the data it collects, since the accuracy ain’t exactly going to get that bridge built, this is why anyone would care about it. The Kinect is an ambassador of 3D data capture. It provides an incredibly low-priced entry point to the science of gathering information about the world around us, digitizing it, and then making some use of it. 

And everyone knows what it does. It introduces into the minds of kids and young adults all over the world the possibility that 3D data can be cheaply captured and made to power systems. I move my arm, stuff happens on my television screen, thanks to the Kinect. What else can moving my arm make happen? 

For just one example of how students are using Kinect technology that’s incredibly timely (even though it was posted in 2011), check out this amazing video made by the folks at UC Davis (if you’ve got 3D glasses, put them on):


You know that the Curiosity just landed in Gale Crater, right? Well, UCDavis’ Dawn Summer (what a great name), was co-chair of the Landing Site Working Group, and you can see in this video why Gale was chosen. But just look at the video! To quote from the information provided, “This video was filmed using a Virtual Globe program called Crusta written by Tony Bernardin at UCDavis, which runs on the VR library Vrui written by Oliver Kreylos, both of UCDavis’ KeckCAVES ( Oliver used two Kinects to capture Dawn as she described the Gale site in front of a 3D TV system with head and wiimote tracking with an optical tracking system. Oliver then re-rendered Dawn’s interaction with Crusta and the Kinect reconstruction of Dawn together into one movie, including the sound track as well. The result is the merging of Dawn and Mars into a virtual world. (See http://youtube/okreylos for more on Kinect wiimote hacking.)”

The Kinect allows for inspired creativity using 3D data. It’s far less likely people are just going to play around with a $100k laser scanner. Creativity leads to technological advances, even if those advances eventually lead to $100k devices. That’s why the Kinect matters.

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