Fact Checked

How Does Kinect® Technology Work?

Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

Kinect® technology uses an infrared (IR) projector in conjunction with two cameras to map a space in three dimensions. The technology is able to recognize human outlines and then extrapolate depth by examining light cast by the IR projector. A wireframe skeleton is assigned to each human outline, which is then used to interpret movements as game inputs. Each Kinect® is capable of recognizing several people at once for the purposes of multiplayer gaming. In addition to this motion sensing Kinect® technology, each device also includes a microphone array that can be used to give vocal commands.

The Kinect® is a motion-sensing video game peripheral device that does not require each player to hold a physical controller. Unlike other camera-based video game peripherals, Kinect® technology is able to accurately sense depth and perform several other functions. The way these devices sense depth is by projecting a semi-random field of infrared light into a room. When the points of light hit an object, the Kinect® technology is able to determine how far away it is by calculating how long it takes the light to reflect back to the device. This allows a depth map to be created that is accurate to within about 1 centimeter (about 0.4 inches).

Two young boys
Two young boys

All of the calculations necessary for creating a depth map are performed by the Kinect® itself. This information is then sent to the game console along with a regular video feed from the traditional camera. Both of these video images are transmitted at 30 frames per second (FPS). The console can then use the depth map to track the position of a person in three dimensions and the regular video feed for facial recognition. Players can teach the system what their faces looks like, after which it is possible for the Kinect® technology to automatically log them in.

In addition to this motion-sensing technology, each Kinect® device also includes a microphone array. The array is composed of four microphones, which makes it possible for the Kinect® technology to recognize the source of each sound in a room. This can be useful for voice commands, since it allows the device to determine which person has spoken. It can also allow the device to differentiate between commands issued by a person and any background noise that originates from a video game or movie that is playing. The microphones can also be used for voice chat and in-game communication, which are features that typically require the use of a headset.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I do think the games are getting better though. They just rushed the Kinect out without developing all the games that they might have at first. Some of the sports games make you feel almost like you're on the field and the latest Fable game looks really cool as well.

I think they are starting to really innovate with the technology, which is actually pretty revolutionary for gaming.

I mean, even the Wii remote was just an extension of what other remotes were capable of, but being able to judge depth and movement without any remote necessary is really amazing.


@indigomoth - Yeah, Microsoft was pretty smart when they allowed a USB connection to the Kinect so that developers could work on different applications for it. I've heard way more about the user-made things you can do with Kinect than about the official games. You can find some of the "hacks" online to do various things.

Some of the most astonishing stuff that's coming out though is in medical science, as the Kinect technology is actually pretty useful there. It can do things like monitoring active patients (for example, children with developmental disorders) and track their behavior, or mapping of areas that need surgery (although I'm not sure if they formally use it for this at the moment).


The coolest thing about Kinect technology is how many applications it has. I've heard people complain about how limited the games are that have been release to use this technology, but people all around the world have been adapting it in other ways.

My favorite is a game that I've seen online that was developed for use with a box of sand, where the player can shape the sand into a landscape and colors are projected onto the sand to look like different features. The Kinect technology keeps track of how the sand is shaped.

For example, if the player makes a mountain shape, it becomes brown with a white top, and if they make a deep valley it "fills with water". They can even make a volcano by hollowing out a mountain.

That's the kind of awesome thinking that's will help computer games become more of an educational tool for kids. If I could do that kind of thing in school I certainly would have paid more attention in geography.

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      Two young boys