Xbox’s Kinect finds new life as eyes for a swarm of grocery robots

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Xbox Kinect Robot EyesSource: Ocado / YouTube: Tom Scott

The terminators of the robopocalypse could have eyes powered by Xbox Kinect, if this grocery packaging factory is anything to go off at least.

Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral is a powerful 3D camera that can determine depth with startling accuracy. While it was at one point the fastest-selling gaming accessory of all time, it never quite caught on as an essential piece of gaming kit, eventually getting sidelined completely. However, Microsoft still manufactures them for use in various other industries, with the tech appearing in Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, as well as the updated Azure Kinect camera array.

How are businesses using it? Well, take a look at the video below for an example.

At approximately 2:20, you can see a classic Xbox One Kinect rigged up to a robotic arm, used to determine how best to package groceries in this wild futuristic packaging facility in South London. The plant uses a swarm of thousands of cube-shaped bots navigating around a grid, picking up groceries like a crane claw machine you’d see in an old-school amusement park. The goods are then whisked away to a more sophisticated packaging arm, which can manipulate items in a more “human-like” way, using Kinect as the robot’s “eyes.”

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The team at Ocado note that goods packaging is designed for humans, not robots, which is why they require an assembly like the above to work around the odd shapes and sizes different packaged food items have. Kinect determines which items should be packaged together, confirming that the orders are correct while ensuring that heavy, hard items aren’t packaged with light, soft items, for example.

The video is another example of Kinect finding new life in its post-gaming days. While I personally feel like Kinect was quite awesome for gaming, it stands true that the vast majority of the time I’d prefer to just chill on the couch and relax than jump around a 3D camera. Still, it’s awesome to see the tech repurposed, and ultimately not wasted.

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