Every Hacker Has a Story Don't They?

Jul 21, 2014

Every Hacker Has a Story Don't They?

Inside views from the NUI Central Kinect for Windows Hackathon 2014

Imagine a large room full of wires splayed across tabletops and a robotic limb sitting obvious, smug and center.

Amir Hessabi can - a 19 year old (almost) junior at Southwestern University, responsible for creating the Robot Hand. When asked how he built his invention, he responded, "I just purchased a toy on Amazon, mounted it with motors, and the motors even cost less than $10." Amir's team came in 2nd place in this year's NUI Central Kinect for Windows Hackathon held on June 20/21 at Startup Grind in New York City.

Digital projections of sand dunes cast shadows of mines strewn across fields in Afghanistan, the difference here being that you can learn more about the history of mine deployment, their cost, and disarmament, simply by "stepping" on one, virtually that is, using the app “Sweeper”. Developers at Critical Mass used Microsoft's Kinect Ripple prototype to create the mine field simulation, an experience for those curious about what it might be like living in other conflict countries.

Working nearby was Peter Blanchfield, a Computer Science Professor from Nottingham University in the UK. He didn’t think twice about booking into a trashy hotel across the street to take part firsthand and get a chance to meet other curiosities who travelled near and far to experience New York City's summer heat. Blanchfield met up with Philip Noonan, another participant who also joined from the UK to take part as a member of team 'Light Speed', bagging first place.

This year's participants had a chance to tinker with the latest SDK for Microsoft's Kinect v2 alongside other developers, designers and enthusiasts. Teams formed organically around ideas of interest and groups competed to discover new ways of thinking, reimagining the capabilities of the sensors when fused with creativity.

Amir saw his first hackathon as a real opportunity since being chosen to take part in the Kinect Developer Program. He claims to have slept but 30 minutes during the 24 hour code/hack, where he "picked up a lot of C# programming skills" while working with team members from companies derivative:d, providing server management using a Raspberry Pi, and Imaging Technology Solutions, providing object detection services.

After moving to the US 5 years ago from Iran, Amir became interested in computer science and robotics after a brief stint with pre-med. "I've always been really good at math," he says.

When asked about the other inspiring inventions at the hackathon, Amir spoke of two particular favorites.  The first was a virtual DJ using body mechanics such as gesture or jumping that trigger corresponding sounds and rhythms. The second was an app developed by Dwight Goins that acts as a virtual doctor. It uses a near-field Kinect sensor to detect vital signs and is accurate up to 1 centimeter away from the Kinect v2. Though it currently only detect a person's pulse rate, other extrapolations potentially include detection of breathing patterns, blood flow, and even jaundice, simply from sensing the color of a patient's face.

"It was really informative for me as a college student, as I learned so much that I couldn't get in the classroom," said Amir.

Ken Lonyai and Debra Benkler, co-founders of NUI Central imagine the future of natural user interfaces as a means to 'humanize' communication between humans and computers. Perhaps in the future, more computers can learn to adapt to human centered needs rather than the other way around.

I like to make magic with stories.