Kinnect Hacking: The Future of NUI

Kinnect Hacking: The Future of NUI

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently you’ll undoubtedly have seen the massive marketing push behind Microsoft’s latest offering, the Kinnect an add-on unit for its Xbox 360 console.  The Kinnect combines (in a very small package) an infrared camera, a VGA camera, a microphone array, and a pan-tilt motor assembly for creating image stabilization. All this to allow your Xbox to respond to gestural input, voice commands, and ushering in the new era of user interfaces: the buzzword NUI or Natural User Interface.

Kinnect Unit

Microsoft's Kinnect head-on

So why don’t I have one? I’m broke for one (ha ha).  But the idea of playing games using this format didn’t appeal to me– I owned a Nintendo Wii for 9 months before pitching it to my sister.  She gets way more use out of it then I ever did, and I’m what you’d call a “hardcore” gamer.  For $150 bones you can add this USB-device to your Xbox and impress your family and friends with its ability to surf your Netflix Watch Instantly queue using just the power of your arm muscles.

In the two weeks since its launch, a bounty was issued for an open-source compatible driver for the Kinnect.  One appeared within days and the explosion of development we’ve seen since then is a bit nuts.  I’m not entirely sure Microsoft cares how many units they sell that are attached to X360’s–I think they’ll continue to sell like hotcakes regardless of where they’re plugged in.  Yesterday I spotted an online guide as an intro to USB hacking using the Kinnect as an example.  It’s by far one of the nerdiest things I’ve seen online lately and it rubs two critical spots for me: teaching the masses, using brand-new shiny hardware for new and different things.

Trolling USB messages for relevant memory addresses...

Trolling USB messages for relevant memory addresses...

Be warned, the guide is not for the faint of heart but it goes into some critical detail for those of you who want to get your hands dirty.

Kinnect represent like all things Microsoft a veiled attempt to push their vision into your life.  15 years ago when Bill Gates was talking about WebTV (shudder) he wanted one in every living room.  While WebTV died, a lot of living rooms contain a gaming console of some type.

Star Trek Holodeck

Star Trek Holodeck

The X360 with Microsoft’s mighty weight behind it is morphing from a game console to a  living room media playback device, and now even more so.  By taking the traditional user interface off of a gamepad and turning it into gesture recognition, Microsoft is showing folks the way forward.  After all, isn’t this just pushing us closer to the Holodeck?

Alternative OS: MeeGo + Jolicloud

I spent the weekend doing a bit of searching around the web on alternative OS’s. Now that my little Hackintosh has been superceded by my mighty MacBook Pro, the poor thing sits unused in my home office just colleting dust. It was never a mighty machine, an Atom-based N450 in the Dell Mini 9 shell. The keyboard is cramped; function keys are mapped funny, and it wasn’t terribly large. At 9 inches everything was just a little bit different and frustrating to use on it. Bonus points were its 16-gig SSD that Dell later stopped offering as an option, an SD card reader, and it’s price: $299 on a one day sale.

I spent some time digging into two OS’s, with somewhat of the same aims: MeeGo and JoliCloud. I should mention that I installed both only in the USB key scenario, not actually loading a full installation.

Jolicloud promised to be the OS with the most initial satistfaction for me. It supports the vast majority of “netbook” systems already out there, and aside from needing to jury-rig my Wireless the first time worked quite well. The entire system promises a bevy of new, recommended, and lightweight cloud-based apps to help you get everything done.

Jolicloud App Directory

Jolicloud App Directory

The staples are there: Chrome, Gmail, VLC, Twitter, and other social networking toolsets. Generally it was was snappy, colorful and seemed well designed. It fit well with my small 9″ screen.

MeeGo also promised a cloud-based experience. The UI interface reminds me a bit of TweetDeck’s– things are running in a 3-column layout and are mostly very easy to read.

Meego Desktop

Meego Desktop

Apps are launched from category buckets and that’s how your “installed” programs are organized and sought out. I ran MeeGo in the same USB-boot key method as Jolicloud, but drivers for my device weren’t readily apparent. Video and audio worked; WLAN did not. Apparently I’m not alone in this. My entire trial was based upon being in a hard LAN environment which may have tainted my final review of the OS. What’s really promising about MeeGo is the variety of devices it wants to run on: mainly in-car devices, and connected TV embedded OS opportunities. They’ve got some substantial backing from Nokia (which I can only assume means there’s a Tablet-like device somewhere in the wings), and today Acer announced they will have MeeGo running on their future devices as well.

That seems to be a substantial alliance going against Google’s Chrome OS– I’m not sure what the ramifications of that are yet because the Chrome OS still isn’t out. I’m going to keep scouting for alternative OS’s, but for right now I think I’ll wipe the ol MacOS and load up Jolicloud for a bit. If I hate it, I can always continue my tour.