Kinect hacks seem to be getting better and better. From being hacked to work with Windows 7 all the way to the recent Evil Genious simulator, there's now even more excuse to give Kinect hacking a try. However, the University of Konstanz in Germany has created possibly one of the best and most useful hacks yet: The gift of sight to the blind. Well, kind of.
The hack, created by Masters students Michael Zöllner and Stephan Huber, involves a lot of carefully placed tech to that, although it doesn't give the partially sighted the ability to see, it provides better awareness of indoor surroundings.
Called NAVI (Navigational Aids for the Visually Impaired), the Kinect sits on top of the person's head attached to helmet. The Kinect is wired up to a laptop, which is placed in a custom fold-out backpack. The laptop runs the C# software used to power the Kinect, and the fetching waistbelt that contains three LilyPad vibration motors, connected to an Arduino board. The software also renders an Augmented Reality (AR) system. To get the Kinect camera working to its full potential, AR-Toolkit markers were placed on walls and doors of the building, giving the Xbox 360 accessory a way of navigating a route. There is also a Bluetooth headset for voice commands.
Once everything is strapped up to the person, the Kinect will look around for a route and then, depending how far away it is from a marker, give instructions such as "Door ahead in 3, 2, 1" and " "Pull the door". Signs can also be read out to wearers.
This is a really cool idea that can genuinely help people, however it could do with a few more improvements first. For instance, it could really do with being more compact, and that laptop hanging out the bag seems a bit of a spacial hazard (or an invitation for someone to tinker with the wearer unaware). Also, it's not clear what the big belt is for, though seeing as it vibrates, it must be either a secondary indicator or a warning if you're about to walk into a wall.
That aside, check out the video of the hack in action, and marvel at how useful the Kinect technology really could be.
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