Coffee, creativity, and Kinect: hacking London-style

A marathon came to London early this year, but it wasn’t the usual 26 miles of pavement pounding. This was a different kind of endurance event, one involving 36 hours of coding with the Kinect v2 sensor.

The event, which took place March 21–22, was organized by Dan Thomas of Moov2, who had approached my colleagues and me in the Microsoft UK Developer Experience team a few months earlier, wondering if we could help put together a Kinect v2 hackathon. Of course we said yes, and with assistance from quite a few friends, the London Kinect Hack was off and running.

After many weeks of planning and hard work on the part of Dan and his team, the event came together and a site opened to distribute tickets. The site featured a snazzy logo (later emblazoned on T-shirts that were distributed at the event), and the hackathon’s allotted 100 tickets sold out within two days.

 The London hackathon featured a snazzy logo that adorned participants' T-shirts.

The London hackathon featured a snazzy logo that adorned participants' T-shirts.

Clearly there was a lot of interest, but we worried about actual turnout—always a risk with a weekend event, when other diversions compete for participants’ time. Moreover, we hoped that all the registrants appreciated that this was a coding event.

So, did the developers come to Kinect Hack London? Did they code? Did they have fun and deliver some great work? Absolutely—see for yourself in this video:

The hackathon was an unqualified success: more than 80 developers turned up for the weekend, coming from not only the UK but also France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and even Mexico. In addition, a number of people came through on “spectator” tickets, eager to see what was happening.

Over the course of the next two days, teams were formed, Kinect sensors were loaned, laptops were borrowed, bugs were squashed, and sleep was (mostly) ignored. Twitter got a serious workout as teams tweeted their progress, while burgers, curry, and pasta disappeared, along with much coffee and a little beer.

Thirty-six hours later, the indefatigable hackers had produced a long list of projects to pitch during the show-and-tell that closed the event. This was a very relaxed, fun couple of hours, with participants getting to see and try out what the other teams had made. Here’s the full roll call of projects (many of which are featured in the video above):

Team (members) Project
Kinect Pong
A variation of the classic game controlled by doing exercises—squats or press-ups (push-ups, to you Yanks). You can see my colleague Andrew Spooner demonstrating this in the video above.
Sphero Slalom
(Victoria, Matthew, Hannah, and Phaninder)
Kinect-captured gestures steered a Sphero (a remote-controlled ball) through a challenging course.
Flight of Light
A four-player Unity game was adapted to support Kinect input, with players spreading their wings and leaning to the left or right to control their avatar.
Vase Maker
(a different James)
Not happy with regular home accessories, this one-man team used the Kinect sensor’s camera and Open Frameworks to create a host of weird and wonderful psychedelic, 3D vase visualisations from such props as a shopping bag.
Functional Movement Screen
(Chris, Mustafa, Glenn, and Matthew)
Like a watchful gym teacher, this app used Kinect body tracking to analyze the quality with which participants performed a set of exercises.
(James and Leigh)
This app used Kinect to explore a user’s skeletal system and musculature.
Do It For Walt
(Joe and Sam)
Developers from Disney prototyped an interactive theme park guide, which featured artificial reality that let users assume their favorite movie characters.
Kinect + Oculus
Impressive visuals and sensations ensued when the Kinect sensor brought the body into a view presented by the Oculus Rift, as real limbs combined with augmented challenges.
Flappy Box
(Chi and Bryan)
A Flappy Bird-like game, this app enabled up to six players to control a flying bird by jumping and crouching in front of the Kinect sensor.
Music Machine
In this multi-person experience, users’ bodies controlled the mix of a set of parts from a music track.
(Rick, Elizabeth, Tatiana, and Sankha)
This app brought Kinect into the world Skype calls.
Kinect Talks
Intended as a tool to assist a five-year-old suffering from cerebral palsy, this app utilized simple body movements to create voice outputs.
Hole in the Wall
(James, Alex, Scott, and Andrew)
In this Unity game, players used gestures to push shaped blocks into an advancing 3D wall.
Box Sizer
(Alex, Michael, Tim, and Navid)
Designed for use by shipping companies, Box Sizer uses the Kinect sensor’s camera and depth detection to measure the volume of cardboard boxes.
Multi-Kinect Server
This app combined output from multiple Kinect sensors over a network, creating a multi-sensor view of all the tracked bodies on a single monitor screen.
(Sam, David, and Mark)
In this WPF-powered multiplayer game, players had to catch bubbles and avoid explosives.
Kinect Juggling
(Phil and Joe)
A tool to teach juggling, this app used Kinect data to track the path of a juggled ball and analyze the accuracy of juggler.
Kinect Kombat
(Gareth, Yohann, and Rene)
A prototype first-person game, this app let combatants hurl virtual fireballs.
Helicar & Lewis
(Joel, James, and Thomas)
Intended to help children visualise their imagined environments, this app placed 3D characters in a modelled 3D world.
Kinect Shooter
(Kunal and Shabari)
This app provided a gun-wielding shoot-‘em-up experience.
3D Fuser
(Claudio and Maruisz)
Need to map Kinect sensor data onto 3D models? This app did it.

The event was not organized as a competition, but Dan put together a small judging panel and three teams received special prizes at the end of the hackathon:

  • Julien received a Parrot AR Drone 2.0  for his work on bringing together multiple Kinect sensors
  • Phil and Joe received a Parrot Jumping Sumo for their innovative juggling application
  • Tom received a Sphero Ollie for his work on bringing together Kinect and Oculus Rift

But really, everyone was a winner. With help from the US Kinect team, Dan had many additional prizes to give away during impromptu games. More than two dozen developers went home with a Kinect sensor of their own; others received Raspberry Pi 2 devices and starter kits or Spheros, the latter donated by—you guessed it—Sphero.

This event demonstrated that the Kinect v2 sensor is an inspirational piece of hardware for hackers, and Dan’s team did a wonderful job of a creating a “by community, for community” event. Everyone had a great time, as witness the incredibly positive feedback at the event and on Twitter (search #KinectHackLondon).

Here are a few of the participants’ write-ups: some even include the code they produced:

Huge thanks to Dan Thomas and the team at Moov2 for putting this hackathon together. It was a great piece of work and a lot of fun to be involved in. Thanks also to the UK Microsoft colleagues who helped out, especially Paul Lo and Andrew Spooner.

Above all, many thanks to all the participants who made this weekend so outstanding.

Mike Taulty, Tech Evangelist, Microsoft UK Developer Experience Team

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