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Microsoft Kinect hacked to control surgical robot

20 January 2011

The Xbox 360 Kinect unit, which is designed to allow human motion to control on-screen games, has been hacked many times since the system appeared last year, much to Microsoft's public annoyance. This time, it has now been hacked to control a surgical robot.

A group of graduate students at the University of Washington have modified the firmware and software of the Kinect to guide the actions of surgical robots.

The technology is still in its embryonic stages, but according to the Kotaku newswire, early reports are positive.

"For robotics-assisted surgeries, the surgeon has no sense of touch right now", Howard Chizeck, the university's professor of electrical engineering told the newswire.

And this is where the Kinect enters the frame, as Chizeck notes that the hacked unit adds the sense of touch and feeds information to the surgeon.

The newswire adds that engineers have been working to integrate gaming's force feedback technology into the robots, translating the tiny bumps - via the Kinect - into larger forces that are felt on the surgeon/operator's end of the link.

In order for 'force feedback' technology to work properly, it needs some sort of frame of reference to tell it when the robot is brushing against a bone.

"Originally the group planned to us CT scans to provide the data, but soon the group got the idea to use a depth camera to provide a more precise picture by measuring infrared light reflected off of the surface, says the newswire, adding that, last month, the group decided to use Microsoft's Kinect, "for obvious reasons."

According to Michael Fahey, reporting on the breakthrough for the Kotaku newswire, the graduate team says that the project would have cost around $50 000 without the Kinect.

The news will please Steve Balmer, Microsoft's president, who was quoted on last weekend's edition of BBC Click, when presenter Spencer Kelly interviewed him, as saying that Microsoft is working on modifying the Kinect with firmware updates itself, following the various hacks that programmers have made in recent months.

This hasn't stopped Microsoft from 'getting legal' with some of the Kinect hackers, but it is reports like this one that could well push Microsoft into releasing a Kinect devkit sooner, rather than later, Infosecurity notes.

This article is featured in:
Application Security  •  Industry News

 

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