Microsoft's KinectFusion research project offers real-time 3D reconstruction, wild AR possibilities

It's a little shocking to think about the impact that Microsoft's Kinect camera has had on the gaming industry at large, let alone the 3D modeling industry. Here at SIGGRAPH 2011, we attended a KinectFusion research talk hosted by Microsoft, where a fascinating new look at real-time 3D reconstruction was detailed. To better appreciate what's happening here, we'd actually encourage you to hop back and have a gander at our hands-on with PrimeSense's raw motion sensing hardware from GDC 2010 -- for those who've forgotten, that very hardware was finally outed as the guts behind what consumers simply know as "Kinect." The breakthrough wasn't in how it allowed gamers to control common software titles sans a joystick -- the breakthrough was the price. The Kinect took 3D sensing to the mainstream, and moreover, allowed researchers to pick up a commodity product and go absolutely nuts. Turns out, that's precisely what a smattering of highly intelligent blokes in the UK have done, and they've built a new method for reconstructing 3D scenes (read: real-life) in real-time by using a simple Xbox 360 peripheral.

The actual technobabble ran deep -- not shocking given the academic nature of the conference -- but the demos shown were nothing short of jaw-dropping. There's no question that this methodology could be used to spark the next generation of gaming interaction and augmented reality, taking a user's surroundings and making it a live part of the experience. Moreover, game design could be significantly impacted, with live scenes able to be acted out and stored in real-time rather than having to build something frame by frame within an application. According to the presenter, the tech that's been created here can "extract surface geometry in real-time," right down to the millimeter level. Of course, the Kinect's camera and abilities are relatively limited when it comes to resolution; you won't be building 1080p scenes with a $150 camera, but as CPUs and GPUs become more powerful, there's nothing stopping this from scaling with the future. Have a peek at the links below if you're interested in diving deeper -- don't be shocked if you can't find the exit, though.