Hacking the Kinect For Art's Sake

The Kinect is a hacker's favorite new toy.

In early November Microsoft unveiled the Kinect, a controller-free gaming add-on to the Xbox 360. The Kinect is similar to the Nintendo Wii in that it relies on the players movement to engage with the game. Unlike the Wii, the Kinect does not require the player to use a handheld device, instead relying on a natural user interface using gesture and spoken commands.

The Kinect works by emitting beams of infrared light and measuring the time it takes for the light to reflect off of objects in the scene and return to the infrared camera. It encodes information in the infrared light and as some of that information is returned, and altered, it allows the Kinect to create a more accurate image of the 3D-objects' texture.

The technology was intriguing enough that many hackers and DIY enthusiasts began to hack the Kinect and see how they could modify its sensors and output.


But hacking isn't always about tearing a device apart and re-engineering it. Hacking also includes using a device in an unexpected way, revealing new features and uses. In that spirit, Bay Area photographer, Audrey Penven, created a series of beautiful photographs that take advantage of the Kinect's infrared light.

In her photographic series, Dancing with Invisible Light, Penven explains her inspiration:

"With these images I was exploring the unique photographic possibilities presented by using a Microsoft Kinect as a light source. The Kinect - an inexpensive videogame peripheral - projects a pattern of infrared dots known as "structured light". Invisible to the eye, this pattern can be captured using an infrared camera. The Kinect uses the deformation of this dot pattern to derive 3D information about its subjects (an ability which has already spawned an explosion of incredible digital art).

As a photographer I am most interested in the nature and quality of light: how light behaves in the physical world, and how it interacts with and affects the subjects that it illuminates. For this shoot my models and I were essentially working blind, with the results visible only after each image was captured. Together, we explored the unique physicality of structured light, finding our way in the darkness by touch and intuition. Dancing with invisible light."

Visit Penven's Flickr page to view all her photos (some NSFW).

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