The best thing about Kinect so far may be the hacks

Since Microsoft launched their Kinect motion-sensing game camera platform earlier this month, reviews have been flooding in from all sots of outlets. So far, reactions to the games and overall out-of-the-box functionality have been mixed. There is one particular demographic, however, that seems to be having a great time with the device: hackers & developers.

Within 48 hours after the Kinect launched in the US, open source hardware dealer Adafruit Industries offered up a $1000 bounty for anyone who was able to hack the device and release open source drivers with a demonstrative application. Microsoft didn’t take too kindly to the publicity and has released some threats in the press. Adafruit twice responded to the threats by upping the prize by $1000.

On November 10th Adafruit awarded that $3000 prize to Hector Martin, who was able to create a Linux driver and application that supported depth, RGB images, and displayed the camera subject in an OpenGL window. The company then donated an additional $2000 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and began another contest to encourage further open source Kinect development.

The development that has taken place in the short span of time the Kinect has been available is pretty remarkable. One developer altered Martin’s code to get his application working on OS X. Another made a pretty cool multi-touch interface with the camera. Others have created object recognition applications and some pretty slick point cloud videos. And we’re only two weeks in.

Microsoft still hasn’t changed their tune about these outside developments, nor are they likely to. “Kinect for Xbox 360 has not been hacked–in any way–as the software and hardware that are part of Kinect for Xbox 360 have not been modified,” the company told Gamespot last week. “What has happened is someone has created drivers that allow other devices to interface with the Kinect for Xbox 360. The creation of these drivers, and the use of Kinect for Xbox 360 with other devices, is unsupported. We strongly encourage customers to use Kinect for Xbox 360 with their Xbox 360 to get the best experience possible.”

I believe that if Microsoft wants to be smart about this, they should jump on the bandwagon and actually encourage the open source development. The ability to do things with the Kinect other than playing “sloppy” games could spawn more sales of the device than would otherwise occur. And the hackers look like they’re having more fun.