When Oliver Kreylos, a computer scientist, heard about the capabilities of Microsoft’s new Kinect gaming device, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. “I dropped everything, rode my bike to the closest game store and bought one,” he said.
But he had no interest in playing video games with the Kinect, which is meant to be plugged into an Xbox and allows players to control the action onscreen by moving their bodies.
Mr. Kreylos, who specializes in virtual reality and 3-D graphics, had just learned that he could download some software and use the device with his computer instead. He was soon using it to create “holographic” video images that can be rotated on a computer screen. A video he posted on YouTube last week caused jaws to drop and has been watched 1.3 million times.
Mr. Kreylos is part of a crowd of programmers, roboticists and tinkerers who are getting the Kinect to do things it was not really meant to do. The attraction of the device is that it is outfitted with cameras, sensors and software that let it detect movement, depth, and the shape and position of the human body.
Companies respond to this kind of experimentation with their products in different ways — and Microsoft has had two very different responses since the Kinect was released on Nov. 4. It initially made vague threats about working with law enforcement to stop “product tampering.” But by last week, it was embracing the benevolent hackers.
“Anytime there is engagement and excitement around our technology, we see that as a good thing,” said Craig Davidson, senior director for Xbox Live at Microsoft. “It’s naïve to think that any new technology that comes out won’t have a group that tinkers with it.”
Microsoft and other companies would be wise to keep an eye on this kind of outside innovation and consider wrapping some of the creative advances into future products, said Loren Johnson, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan who follows digital media and consumer electronics.