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The Kinect revolutionised robotics, but its demise is ‘not the end of the world’

Amit Katwala

Imperial College London's Robot DE NIRO uses a Kinect Sensor to track human movement (Credit: Imperial College London)
Imperial College London's Robot DE NIRO uses a Kinect Sensor to track human movement (Credit: Imperial College London)

Microsoft has stopped manufacturing the Kinect sensor, which has given robots affordable eyes since its launch in 2010.

The device has sold around 35 million units, and was bundled with the Xbox 360 games console to provide motion tracking and voice recognition for video games. However, according to Fast Company, Microsoft has now stopped manufacturing the device in favour of its augmented reality Hololens.

Although the Kinect was designed as an entertainment tool, it found a second life in research, as it offered a much cheaper way for robots to track human body movements in order to interact with them.

It was attached to drones to allow them to fly autonomously, and incorporated into a robot designed to search through rubble. A number of robotics projects use Kinect sensors to give their robots vision, including the Robot DE NIRO collaborative robot project at London’s Imperial College.

“The Kinect is still quite broadly used in research,” Gilbert Tang, a roboticist at Cranfield University told Professional Engineering. However, Tang said that there were now open source software solutions that could emulate its colour and depth, and other products available too. “That’s one of the reasons why Kinect is phasing out,” he said. “Other companies are offering sensors that can do similar things.”

Petar Kormushev, who leads the Robot DE NIRO project at Imperial told PE that it was “not going to be the end of the world”. He said that there were at least four other products that could replace Kinect, and that any gaps in the market will not last for long. “If there’s a void it will be filled,” he said.

Tang agreed. “I think roboticists will go to any length to develop their own systems,” he said. 


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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