Video games have come a long way from huddling around a CRT monitor and smashing buttons with your friends. With video games rapidly evolving over the years, it was only a matter of time before your body itself became the controller.

The Microsoft Kinect has revolutionized video games and captured the imaginations of children and adults all over the world. There is something magical about having a character in a game mirror your every move! As an adult in my 30s, I love video games as much as the next person, but did you know there is a whole other world that the Kinect can be used for?

The Kinect can be used in many applications in the real world, as well! You could use its motion capture sensors to control a robot, or its voice commands in a home automation project. You can use its sensors to create 3D scans of yourself and other objects to be printed out on any 3D printer. The possibilities for its uses are almost endless. Microsoft provides a full SDK to be able to use the sensor in your own applications and projects. You can create your own games which can be controlled by the Kinect sensor using gesture or voice control, and you can grab a copy of the SDK here to check it out for yourself!

One of my all-time favorite projects so far has been the “AR Sandbox”. This free and open source technology has been graciously released to the world by the team at UC Davis which created it. With this software and a little DIY ingenuity, you can create this Augmented Reality Sandbox in your own home over the course of a weekend for less than $500. This system utilizes the Kinect Sensor and a projector to project real time topographical images into the sandbox below. If you dig a valley you can fill it with water using a gesture over the sandbox with your hand that makes it rain. You can continue to dig channels and watch the water flow from high ground to low all in real time. You can also build mountains and turn it into a volcano with another gesture! This is a great tool to teach adults and kids about the power of nature and the topology of the planet Earth.

This simple project is just one of the many uses for a Kinect outside of the gaming world. If you would like to download this software and give it a try for yourself, you can download it and find instructions here. Photos by UC Davis.