Kinect@Home Wants to Start 3D Scanning the World

Big data would be a big help to robots, so let's go out there and get it with the help of Kinect

2 min read
Kinect@Home Wants to Start 3D Scanning the World

Back in January, Adept's Erin Rapacki told us all that it's time to start 3D scanning the world. We agree with her, but it's not an easy thing to actually go and, you know, do. There are approximately 975 bajillion different objects out there in the world that robots need to know how to interact with, and the only way we're going to learn about them all (short of Google throwing approximately 975 bajillion dollars at the problem) is through a cooperative, crowdsourced effort like this new project called Kinect@Home.

What Kinect@Home wants to do is to harness the power of all of those Kinects that roboticists and gamers have lying around out there and put them to work recording 3D models of, uh, pretty much everything. Here's how it works:

  • You download some drivers and a plugin from the Kinect@Home website.
  • Plug your Kinect into your computer.
  • Run the plugin, and move your Kinect slowly around whatever it is that you want to create a model of.
  • The data gets uploaded and rendered in the cloud, and you get back a nifty browsable, embeddable 3D model like this:


If you want to get crazy and download the model itself and mess with it, you can do that too. Cool!

The whole point of this is not really to give you a nifty new 3D modeling tool. Rather, Kinect@Home is hoping that people will make scans of every single last one of those 975 bajillion different objects that exist, which Kinect@Home can then analyze, categorize, and use to create better computer vision algorithms. From a more practical standpoint, we're talking about teaching robots to be better at navigating environments and manipulating objects.

For example, let's say that we want to teach a robot to open a refrigerator. To do that, a robot first has to recognize a refrigerator, but there are all kinds of different refrigerators and we have no idea what particular sort our robot is going to be asked to deal with. With a Kinect@Home dataset, it might be possible to go check out models of thousands of refrigerators in people's homes, and use those models to teach our robot how to locate (and even open) a generalized fridge. And once the dataset exists, there are all kinds of other things that we could do with it too, from object recognition to semantic mapping to localization to scene comprehension. 

Kinect@Home is totally, completely free, and you can download it at the link below.

[ Kinect@Home ]

Thanks Alper!

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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