Kinect hacked days after release

Image caption,
The Kinect works by flooding a room with infra-red light

Microsoft's Kinect controller has been hacked only a few days after it officially went on sale.

Code to control the motion-capture device has been produced that allows it to be used with a PC rather than the Xbox game console.

Those behind the hack are keen to use the device in schools, art projects and to aid human-robot interaction.

Microsoft has said it was not happy with the unofficial modifications made to the gadget's control system.

The attempt to hack the control system for the Kinect gadget was kick-started by electronics kit maker Adafruit. On 4 November it announced it would pay $1,000 (£624) to the first person to produce control software, known as drivers, for the Kinect.

It upped the bounty to $3,000 (£1,871) following comment from Microsoft saying it did not condone the reverse-engineering of its motion controller.

The Adafruit bounty was won by hacker Hector Martin who was the first to produce drivers and make them available for others to download and improve.

Using the drivers Mr Martin got the Kinect working with a Linux laptop. The drivers he produced are for the Kinect's motion capture system. Work is still underway on the gadget's voice capture and control system.

In a statement to the BBC, Microsoft was keen to point out that the Xbox 360 control system for the Kinect had not been hacked.

"What has happened is someone has created drivers that allow other devices to interface with the Kinect for Xbox 360," it said. "The creation of these drivers, and the use of Kinect for Xbox 360 with other devices, is unsupported.

It added: "We strongly encourage customers to use Kinect for Xbox 360 with their Xbox 360 to get the best experience possible."

Cash contest

The Adafruit contest has also given rise to a Google group dedicated to open source use of Kinect that now has about 400 members.

Image caption,
Images posted on the Adafruit blog show the hack working.

Many people are also starting to post videos of themselves using Kinect with Apple machines and as a multi-touch interface. Work is underway to produce drivers that work with Windows PCs.

In a blog entry, Adafruit said it expected to see the Kinect starting to be used in all kinds of ways rather than just for gaming. It said it could become a way to interact with robots or art installations.

The Kinect is attractive to amateur roboticists because its retail price of about £129 is much lower than the cost of movement sensors of similar sophistication.

Mr Martin said he would share the cash prize with other hackers that helped him get the Linux drivers working. He said work was continuing to improve the control system to make it comparable as the one used by the Xbox.

A second open source Kinect contest has now also started, sponsored by Google engineer Matt Cutts. He will give $1,000 to whoever produces what he considers the coolest open source Kinect project. A separate $1,000 prize will be given to the team creating tools that make it easy to use Kinect on Linux.

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