Kinect for Windows Hackathon Coming to Kitchener

Berlin, Beijing, New York, Waterloo Region.

It might not be the most predictable list of international cities, but then, hackathons are not about predictability.

They’re about surprises, and that’s exactly what Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows team will be looking for August 8-10, when it flies in from Redmond, Wash. to host a hackathon in downtown Kitchener. It’s the only Canadian stop on its world tour in search of exciting new applications for its motion-sensing technology, which enables natural interaction between humans and computers.

With only 100 spots available, developers are encouraged to book early for the event, which coincides with the Kitchener Blues Festival and will be located in the heart of the action, at the Kitchener Studio Project, 44 Gaukel St. (Register here via Eventbrite).

In keeping with the surrounding musical festivities, Smokin’ Tony’s BBQ will cater the entire hackathon.

If participants can still move after all that food, they’ll have the privilege of putting Kinect’s latest technology – much of it pre-release and experimental – through its paces. Prizes for the best applications include a Kinect for Windows device and cash.

In an interview with Communitech this week, Ben Lower, developer community manager for the Kinect for Windows team, said the hackathon series grew out of a groundswell of interest that began last November, after Microsoft shipped dev kits to 18 countries.

The kit was “essentially a pre-release Kinect sensor, along with a pre-release adapter that allows you to plug it into a PC,” Lower said over the phone from Redmond. “And then we had an alpha SDK.”

That led to the first hackathon in Berlin in April, followed closely by another in Beijing.

“We ran those two events and we had tremendous success,” Lower said. “We just were really inspired by the number of people who came out and how hard they worked over the weekend, and just the types of innovations that they created.”

When a third hackathon was announced for New York in June, Jennifer Janik, CEO of Deep Realities – a Waterloo Region company that develops augmented reality and interactive experiences – reached out to Lower to ask about bringing the tour here.

“And I basically said, ‘Actually, I’ve never done an event in Waterloo, but I’m open to it. Let’s talk,’” Lower said.

When Janik filled Lower in on the depth and breadth of the region’s tech community and offered to take care of local logistics, he couldn’t help but accept the invitation.

“When we have somebody like her who is willing to step up and just put in the time and energy required,” he said, “it’s really hard for us to say no.”

The prospect of visiting during Canada’s largest free blues festival certainly didn’t hurt, either.

As for the hackathon, it costs $20 per person and is open to individual developers or teams, with or without fully baked ideas for Kinect for Windows applications. Everyone is encouraged to bring a laptop with USB 3.0 support, but a limited number of workstations and loaner Surface Pro devices will also be available.

Participants will have access to free software, top Kinect engineers and some experimental firmware that turns Kinect into a near-field device, Lower said.

More commonly known as a gaming device for Xbox aficionados, Kinect’s Windows version opens up unlimited possibilities for its motion- and voice-sensing technology, in areas like health care, manufacturing, education and the arts.

Skeletal tracking enables Kinect to identify an individual person based on their joint movements, Lower said. This means health workers can prescribe and monitor the effectiveness of therapeutic exercises for patients without having them come in for a visit, saving on time and costs.

Kinect also has a depth sensor, which means it can spot defects in manufactured goods as they move along an assembly line, Lower said. Teachers, meanwhile, can bring physics lessons to life by having students engage with Kinect to learn about trajectory, velocity and other concepts.

Artists are also getting in on the action, he said.

“With Kinect v1, we saw this really amazing thing called the V Motion Project. It’s basically performance art where the person is using gesture control – again, powered by Kinect – to perform this really awesome music and dance performance.”

Bottom line for participants at the Kitchener hackathon: Bring your imagination, along with your appetite.

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