Dancing the night away with Kinect v2

Visitors to Seattle’s 2014 Decibel Festival expected the avant-garde. After all, this four-day event celebrated innovations in electronic music, visual art, and new media. But even the most jaded attendees must have been surprised to encounter the Cube, a 4-foot-square block of transparent acrylic that catapulted them into an interactive dance party.

The Cube uses four Kinect v2 sensors to detect the dancers and trace their movements, integrating them into the visual experience.
The Cube uses four Kinect v2 sensors to detect the dancers and trace their movements,
integrating them into the visual experience. (Photo: Scott Eklund)

Powered by five computers and four Kinect v2 sensors working together, the Cube drew in curious onlookers, capturing their images and incorporating them into the installation. As participants stood in front of it, the Cube reacted, pulsating to music and tracing the movements of those around it. The Kinect sensors could detect up to three people on each side of the Cube. And thanks to the transparent nature of the structure, participants could see others through the Cube, so a dancer on one side of the Cube could react to the movements of a partner on another side. In fact, the hands of dancers on opposite sides appeared to be linked by virtual ribbons. Their individual dance moves thus merged into sinuous visual collaborations, enabling the Cube to create a virtually connected dance whose participants were in different physical spaces.

A key technical challenge in creating the Cube was to link together the four Kinect sensors inside the structure, so that the devices could “talk” to each other. Abram Jackson, a program manager with Microsoft Exchange Server who helped with the technical engineering, described the problem. “We had to take all four of the Kinect sensors, map out a cohesive view of the room to keep track of where the people were, even if they changed to a different sensor, so the images displayed on the Cube would still make sense to that person,” he explains.

The innovative dance-party coding work was done in conjunction with Stimulant, a Seattle-based digital design firm. The Cube is thus a prime example of the kind of innovation that occurs when the creative development community takes hold of the Kinect v2 hardware and its SDK (software development kit).  As Rick Barraza, senior technical evangelist at Microsoft, observed, “It’s about evolutionary innovation versus revolutionary innovation. We won’t reach that next level until we encourage creativity.” Barraza and his colleagues actively encourage hackers of all stripes—developers, designers, art directors, and hobbyists—to experiment with Microsoft products. He even organized an Ambient Creativity Hackathon this past summer, which inspired an eclectic group of hackers to let their imaginations soar during three days of experimentation with Kinect for Windows v2.


What’s next in this process of evolutionary innovation?  Well, for the Cube, the next goal is to scale up to an even bigger size, or to link multiple Cubes together so they can communicate with one another.  Whatever happens, we’ll be eager to report on it!

The Kinect for Windows Team

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