For the past week, I’ve been obsessing over Kinect Hacks. If you’re unfamiliar, Kinect Hacks are the folks that are hacking Microsoft’s Kinect device to build either applications, or (more likely at this phase), contribute to the “library” of functionality for the device that will form the foundation for applications in the future. Having spent a week digging in, I’m convinced that the movement around hacking Kinect is the tip of the spear of a whole new wave of innovation in HCI. Here’s why…
The Kinect takes what has been fairly expensive hardware/software to assemble (around 3D sensing, voice recognition, IR cameras, etc) and makes it accessible “to the masses” for $150 bucks. Once the first hacker broke it wide open, it was game on. Sure the current instantiation of the Kinect is fairly limited in some critical ways, but do not think for one second that Redmond is watching the hacks with an eye toward Kinect version 2.0.
The Kinect takes the expensive and commoditizes it sufficiently that it has opened up an (essentially) open platform for developers. Motion capture, spatial operating environments, 3D/virtualized environments — these things that were incredibly expensive to work with are now suddenly within the grasp of developers everywhere. And that’s a big step.
The Internet began with DoD and University research and funding. But it broke wide open when kids in Omaha found themselves able to build web apps that could change the world (blogs, twitter, etc). So, too, will it be with HCI. Not that the DoD, University and “hardened” products on the market don’t have their place — of course they do. But things like the Kinect (and the hacks especially) are an accelerant.
In five year’s time, we’ll look back at November of 2010 as a seminal moment for HCI — because that’s when the Kinect was released – and hacked.