Geospatial tech gets mainstream with the Kinect

Many of us in the Geospatial profession are quite proud of the niche that we celebrate due to the nature of expertise required to operate the hardware and software tools of our trade.  Then occasionally a product comes out for mass consumption, like the Kinect, that makes us re-think not only the applications of our trade, but also the tools that we are using around the applications.

LiDAR sensors run the gamut of budgets.  Now you can have one for a few hundred bucks.  Now I am by no means saying that the Kinect will replace professional LiDAR systems and their applications.  But what I am stating is that new applications for this technology can come to bear through mass consumption; Microsoft is now doing for LiDAR what Google did for maps.

A cursory search on Google for "Kinect Hacks" yields a plethora of videos, blog posts, technical how-to's, and graduate student projects.  Here are some projects from academia.

  1. Kinect Hacks from MIT
  2. Kinect hacks lets you control a web browser and Windows 7
  3. UW students adaps gaming hardware for robotic surgeryHere's a link to the Open Source Drivers for the Kinect.  Microsoft is not too pleased by this, and is hinting that they will introduce the official drivers soon.Is Geospatial becoming less niche?  I don't think so.  Technologies like Google Earth, Google Maps, and the Kinect spark interest and curiosity whilst providing a budgetary means of application.  This will bring more users, developers, and audience into our realm.  Why do I still attribute a Geospatial label to this technology?  Because they are still 3d points in space that have meaning, attributes, and relationships.  That's where a Geospatial skill-set will be more important than ever. As I am writing this article Johnny Chung Lee, the man behind your favorite Wiimote hacks, and the key researcher at Microsoft behind the Kinect, has now been swooped up by Google as a "rapid evauator".  I am on the edge of my seat now.