Hackers, once seen only as security threats, are quickly becoming the cool guys on the digital playground. Whether it’s a kid genius “modding” his dad’s tablet computer, the extremely gifted game developer, or even the digital security expert, hacking has evolved from a destructive hobby to an encouraged one. One platform that has sparked the imaginations of an entire breed of new hackers is the Microsoft Kinect and its gesture-based technology.
Released at midnight on November 4, 2010, Kinect is an interface that allows you to control a player on screen with real-life physical motion or gestures. Within weeks of its release, curious minds got inside the device, modifying it to do things Microsoft never dreamed of or intended.
But it hasn’t always been fun and games. Back in 2011 when Adafruit offered a $3000 bounty for the first person who could create and release Kinect software for use on a computer rather than an Xbox--Microsoft’s response was rather icy. In a comment to CNET, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products,” adding, “With Kinect, Microsoft built in numerous hardware and software safeguards designed to reduce the chances of product tampering. Microsoft will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant." But that just added the proverbial fuel to the fire.
Then, possibly seeing the altruistic potential that Kinect offered beyond gaming, Microsoft changed its stance on Kinect hacking in 2011 by releasing the official SDK. The result? Kinect is credited for spawning a commercial ecosystem when hacks with greater potential are developed—everything from mapping gear for firefighters and rehabilitation for stroke patients to space orbit docking systems.
Sure, there’s still the occasional bad hacker bust—people that have chosen to wear the black hat and go to the “dark side,”—but if you take the bad with the good, and hope that good prevails; Kinect is clearly becoming a springboard for good.