A weekend at Kinect Hackday London

March 28, 2015

I spent last weekend at Microsoft’s London HQ for their Kinect Hackday event. Put together by my friend Dan Thomas and his team at Moov2 and supported by Microsoft, it was a brilliant weekend that resulted in some truly astounding projects being made.

Over 80 developers came along, and Microsoft dished out Kinect for Windows v2 devices. I took a Windows 8 laptop up to London to get native use of the Kinect. We were quickly given a crash course in Kinect dev by the Microsoft team - and a crash course in how on earth Visual Studio works. I’m still not sure on the latter.

Kinect Crash Course

The food put on by the team was incredible, bringing in street food from across London. We had fine cheeky burgers, gourmet Mac & Cheese, and some of the nicest indian meatball wraps I’ve ever eaten.

Kinect v2s were regularly given out through pot luck competitions, encouraging people to take photos and update on their progress on the Twitter hashtags to enter into the runnings. This was a fair way to encourage engagement and got everyone excited about running around taking selfies. It also led to this self-affacing photo on the sofa in the ‘Microsoft Living Room’. That was all Jo’s idea!

Paint me like one of your french girls

Throughout the weekend the various developer evangelists and Microsoft representatives were incredibly helpful. Even when they couldn’t help, they did everything they could to find someone who could. Lovely people, too.

As a front-end developer, the easiest thing for me to get my teeth into was a Windows 8 app in HTML/JS. Visual Studio allows for the building of native apps that can connect to the Kinect, so it was (relatively) easy to get it up and running and get images of multiple people onto a HTML5 Canvas. Of course, with a lot of help from PeteD. Here’s a vine of my early progress, with some poor ‘volunteers’ roped in.

I knew early on I wanted to make something that could easily be used as an installation, something for people to experience in short bursts, perhaps while walking past a window. A simple music maker would be fun, so I set out looking for easily loopable music tracks. Luckily last week Madeon had released his Adventure Machine, full of looping tracks from his music. It was made by my friends at We Make Awesome Sh, and it’s great. Go play with it.

Kinectin'

Converting the tracks from the site to MP3, I set about getting it working in Windows 8’s native app. This actually took longer than getting the Kinect working. A number of issues came from the fact that Win8’s native HTML/JS actually runs Internet Explorer 11, which generally deals with HTML5 audio very well except when it comes to looping audio.

The final result is a web page that is playing all the tracks simultaneously, muted, and by raising or lowering hands each player controls their part of the song. It almost worked perfectly, but IE11’s audio loop bug ruins the effect, as it briefly pauses between each loop and slowly things start getting out of sync.

About 3 years ago my final year project at Uni was a Unity Kinect game, and the worst thing was having to get up to demo the game after each bit of development. This has changed in the new Kinect with Kinect Studio, which allows you to record action on a Kinect, then unplug it and re-play that action in your game as if a Kinect was attached. It saves all the data, so a ten second clip consumes 150mb+. And it is super useful and makes development a breeze.

You can browse the code on GitHub, if you’re curious at seeing someone’s first time ever using Visual Studio! It’s not great.

The first Kinect Hackday London was a brilliant, excellent experience. I can’t wait for another one. Show & Tell was a joy, and the sheer creativity and variety of projects made were fascinating. Every attendee I spoke to was from a different place, working on different things. Some had come from across the world to be there.

Thanks to my volunteer dance crew for putting out some mad shapes!

I was lucky enough to win a Kinect v2, so that’s now available for anyone to use in Open Device Lab Bournemouth.