From Wired: “Kinect Hackers Are Changing the Future of Robotics” and Hacksourcing

Wired has a great article on the Kinect – the depth camera from Microsoft for the Xbox 360. If you haven’t had a chance to play games with the Kinect, you should find one now and play it because it is really cool, ingenious in fact. But the article really hits on some other features about the community growing around the Kinect. This community has 1) pushed the Kinect into becoming the most prominent open source hardware tool this year, and 2) shown the power of the hacker community to develop applications for tools that breed creativity. Although the article focuses on the ‘Future of Robotics’ a clearer future can be envisioned when seeing the hacker community as one that should be embraced as a productive component to the hardware or software process.

Call it ‘Hacksourcing’ – the outsourcing of the development and applications end of the technology process. Hacksourcing works in addition to the work that traditional engineering development can propose. But, in contrast to the traditional model, more creativity, failure, and iterations can result when using the hacker community as the development engine of novel applications. Stories in the Wired article on the Kinect reinforce this ‘hacksourcing’ view without specifically giving it a name.

Highlights from the article:

“When DIYers combine those cheap, powerful tools with the collaborative potential of the Internet, they can come up with the kinds of innovations that once sprang only from big-budget R&D labs.”

“A few companies, though, have welcomed the hackers. When iRobot learned that academics and hobbyists were rewiring its robotic vacuum cleaner, the Roomba, the company released a special vacuumless version—the iRobot Create—designed explicitly to be modded. “It really builds awareness of our company,” says Kristen Stubbs, who until recently served as iRobot’s outreach program manager. “When people do cool things with our robot and our platform, it’s great exposure.””

“Three months later, Microsoft would go even further. On the Microsoft Research site, the company announced that it would make it easier than ever to modify the Kinect by releasing its own software development kit. In a matter of weeks, Microsoft’s reputation within the hacker community had completely flipped. Instead of acting like a lumbering, power-mad hegemon, it had lent its support to what was shaping up to be one of the biggest and most successful open source development projects the world had ever seen.”

“Microsoft is now openly courting modders.”

“In other words, by embracing hackers, Microsoft benefitted from their enthusiasm.”

“[Sony] announced that it would release a software development kit for its PlayStation Move controller in an attempt to “inspire applications that we could never have imagined.”)”

“Still, Microsoft isn’t waiting for a bunch of hackers to unlock the Kinect’s potential. The company is investing millions of dollars in the traditional in-house model. … All of this work is expensive and difficult and the result of many hours of dedicated labor—the kind that probably won’t be replicated by a loose-knit group of enthusiasts.”

” And as more and more technology becomes commoditized—and as the web continues to make it easier for far-flung individuals to work together as a team—hacker communities will grow more and more capable. As everyone gains access to the same resources, the best ideas will win. And millions of hobbyists will usually come up with more interesting ideas faster than a few thousand professionally employed engineers.”

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