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Kinect's Greatest Hack: A Gesture-Control Robot

PR2 robot and Kinect

Microsoft's Kinect is being hacked left, right, and center, with all sorts of exciting uses in its future. But Willow Garage, purveyor of research humanoid robots, has created the best mashup yet: Kinect, a robot, and gesture control.

Willow Garage is big on the robotics scene—many of its PR2 robots are helping in research into robotics and man-machine interfaces, and it has a big hand in the Robotic Operating System that's slowly gaining ground as the operating system of choice among robot developers, from commercial efforts to enthusiast kits. ROS is an open-source enterprise, and that's proving to be one of its strengths. So it's fascinating to see how the ROS community, and hardware hacking enthusiasts, are helping Willow Garage with a project to hack a decidedly not open-source system (not matter how Microsoft tries to spin it): Kinect.

What more do we need to say? An advanced gesture-sensitive sensor system, and a robot—combined into one project. Check out the video to see what Willow Garage has achieved in the small period of time since Kinect hit the marketplace:

The obvious powers of Kinect in enabling direct body-movement control of a robot arm, without requiring expensive and complex strap-on motion-sensing equipment should be clear--it makes telepresence robotic operation look a cinch (is NASA watching, for Robonaut?). And did you spot that Willow is trying out combining two Kinects together, to 3-D sense the front and back of a person? The observant among you will also be thinking of that particular scene in that Tom Cruise film, and pondering how astonishingly powerful a hacked Kinect motion-control computer interface may be. This looks to be the most exciting Kinect hack yet, which is an impressive fact, but what it does even more is whet our appetite for future hacks to come.

To keep up with this news, and more like it, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.