People are getting pretty excited over the new Kinect Sensor for the recently announced Xbox One. A significant upgrade to the specs, most notably HD sensor and more accurate 3D detection, make it an even more powerful tool for people looking to harness what is happening realtime in 3D space. The more I read about its capabilities the more excited and creeped out I get. Excited because it may bring about the at-home 3D scanner I have always dreamed of for product development (already demoed on the original Kinect) and creeped out because of what it means for “Big Brother”.
DIY 3D Scanning:
3D scanning has been the one big thing that has held me back from joining the 3D printer revolution. During my formal training as an Industrial Engineer I learned how to develop models in various 3D CAD programs and reproduce them in all types of mediums using various tools including CNC Mills, SLA Machines, and various additive processes. While that process is amazing for creating brand new products, I have found it somewhat tedious and slow for creating replacement parts or accessories for current products. I need to be able to mold and shape these parts by hand until they work properly and translating those manual adjustments back into the CAD software is not always an easy task and often results in many adjust-build-test cycles before you get it just right. If I could make manual adjustments and then scan those adjustments back into my CAD software my process would be shortened significantly. There are a couple projects out there to bring this to the home user but their work envelopes are preventatively small (see Matterform and CADScan3D), the new Kinect sensor could open this up to a much larger set of applications.
The prospects for this in the surveillance and security space are pretty mind-blowing in my opinion. Imagine this technology in the lobby of a bank paired with a super high definition video camera. The Kinect sensor could not only keep track of the number of people in the space, it could use its skeletal tracking technologies to determine if someone is accelerating their limbs at a rate that would be in accordance with an act of aggression. It could be programmed to alert authorities if all of the people in the room suddenly drop to the ground or start moving erratically and faster than normal, it can even theoretically tell if someone in the room has an elevated heart rate. It would allow us to create a 3D recoding of what is happening around us in real time, our world could be viewed and replayed like The Sims or Second Life. Mount this at a busy intersection and not only will red light cameras be more accurate, you could prevent pedestrian injuries by alerting someone of danger if they start to enter the street before the walk signal is activated. Are you tall enough to ride? Amusement parks could install sensors to actively check the height of guests entering a ride to make sure they are of sufficient size to ride. There are thousands of applications for this technology, and most of them make me want to lock myself in my apartment or wear Betabrand’s Disco Line of Clothing everywhere I go.
Overall I am excited about the future of this technology and how it is bringing 3D scanning and motion capture to the masses. We are still in the early days but we are clearly heading in the right direction. Its important to note that Microsoft isn’t the only company developing this technology, they are just the ones bringing it to the mass market on a platform that is easy to hack and develop your own software for. Their competitors often cost thousands of dollars, the Kinect costs $150.