Globetrotting via Kinect

In his novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne celebrated the technological marvels of the nineteenth century—the railways, steamships, the Suez Canal—that made it possible to circumnavigate the globe in less than three months. This spring and summer, the Museum of Communication in Frankfurt, Germany, is honoring Verne’s classic tale in an exhibit entitled “Around the World in 80 Objects: the Jules Verne Code.” Among the objects capturing a lot attention is a Kinect-enabled interactive map of the world, which allows museum goers to use intuitive gestures to pan, zoom, and switch between different maps and map views as they take their own trip around the globe.

Created by Aleksandr Shirokov—a graduate student at the Institute for Geoinformatics, University of Münster—the interactive digital map is displayed on a screen measuring 1.75 meters by 2.10 meters (roughly 6 feet by 7 feet). Museum visitors can pan the maps by moving one hand. They can zoom in and out by using the pinch gestures familiar to smartphone users—except that they use both hands rather than their thumb and index finger. They can also use a unique gesture—passing one hand behind an ear—to switch perspective and to view different map types.

Museum goers can circle the world, like Phileas Fogg, the hero of Verne’s novel, but in seconds rather than weeks. Or they can focus on a particular location, even to the point of zooming in on their own residence—just by using simple hand gestures that Kinect for Windows captures and interprets. Users are captivated by the map’s wealth of information and by the simplicity of navigating its many views. “That was amazing,” enthused one recent museum visitor. “I never really thought about how easy and natural it would be to control something with my hands.”

The first iteration of the interactive map used the original Kinect sensor to capture users’ gestures. After the Kinect v2 sensor became available, the developers were eager to take advantage of its higher resolution camera and more detailed body tracking. These enhancement allowed far more precise recognition of users’ gestures, enabling users to control the map more naturally and smoothly. “We don’t even need to explain to people what to do. They naturally start scrolling, changing, and zooming the map,” notes a museum employee. And since the latest Kinect sensor can “see” in even a completely dark room, the new version of the app can accurately track users’ body joints—and hence their gestures—even if the lights are dim.

After Frankfurt, the exhibit is scheduled to be displayed at the Museum of Communication in Berlin, where its interactive map should engage and delight a whole new group of virtual globetrotters. Meanwhile, developer Shirokov plans to use Kinect for Windows’ ability to detect heart rate and facial expressions to measure users’ emotional response to the interactive experience and then enhance the application accordingly.

 The Kinect for Windows Team

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