How Robotics Has Changed Over the Years
— far out-selling Apple’s i-Phone and i-Pad launch
sales. The device was a natural for hackers. When
an ex-Microsoft employee offered $3,000 for the
first person to hack the system, it was hacked within
days of its launch. You-Tube has a slew of videos
of Kinect-powered robots. The photo from the
IEEE Spectrum Magazine in Figure 5 shows a
Kinect-controlled Quad Rotor AAV. You can see the
four whirling rotors protected by the yellow ‘fences.’
Xbox gamers saw the jewel that it was, but it
was the robot experimenter community that dug into
the amazing sensor and made it the center of their
robotic creations. Universities around the world saw
the Kinect as a replacement for previous complex systems
that cost tens of thousands of dollars and did not work as
well as the $150 Microsoft product. At first, Microsoft — as
with most large companies — strenuously objected to the
hacking competition but soon realized that making the
device ‘open source’ would benefit everyone — especially
The Kinect enables control of the Xbox through
“natural interaction” — a term trademarked by PrimeSense
(Tel Aviv, Israel) — the company that developed Kinect’s
underlying optical sensing and recognition technology that
translates body motion into control commands. It works by
projecting an infrared laser pattern onto nearby people and
objects. A dedicated IR sensor picks up on the laser to
determine distance for each pixel, and that information is
then mapped onto an image on a standard RGB camera.
The Kinect sensor has an IR emitter, a depth camera
coupled with a standard RGB camera, and a built-in array of
four microphones that track your full-body movements and
respond to your voice.
The Kinect project started out as Project Natal after
they bought another Israeli
startup company (3DV for $35
million in early 2009). 3DV was a
developer of 3D real time depth
detection digital cameras.
PrimeSense and Microsoft
examined technology from both
companies and ended up using
the PrimeSensor technology.
Figure 6 shows one of the
earlier, pre-Kinect PrimeSense-WAVI-Xtion systems. Note the
similarity to the later Kinect
Figure 3 shows the simple
layout of the Kinect sensor
system and the three lenses.
When the projected IR pattern
from the emitter seen as the far
left ‘lens’ hits a 3D object, the
lines are distorted and this
distortion is read by the depth
FIGURE 7. Exploded
view of the Kinect.
FIGURE 6. The PrimeSense
WAVI-Xtion 3D sensor.
right). This camera analyzes the distorted IR patterns and
builds a 3D map of the room with all the objects and
people in it.
The center camera is the color camera that is used to
gather details about people and objects in the viewing area.
Figure 7 shows an exploded, hacked view of the Kinect.
From the bottom, you can see the four-microphone array,
the three circuit boards, and the three cameras. I’m not
going to elaborate on the aspects of Kinect as you can
search the Internet and find dozens of sites explaining the
device, as well as dozens of hacking sites and hundreds of
robots using the Kinect.
Other Changes In Robotics
Over The Years
There are many other technological breakthroughs that
did not necessarily cause changes in the field of robots, but
rather allowed these changes to occur. One might say that
low cost GPS modules (such as the two Parallax GPS
modules that cost $35 and $80 each) have allowed builders
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