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Microsoft Kinect used to map asteroids, glaciers, other scary things

Amar Toor, @amartoo
12.15.11
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Ken Mankoff is a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studies ice and ocean interactions. He also counts himself among a growing legion of environmental scientists who have begun using Microsoft's Kinect to create detailed, 3D maps of caves, glaciers and even asteroids. As Wired reports, the Kinect has garnered something of a cult following within the scientific community, especially among those who, until now, have relied upon comparatively more expensive and complicated technologies to gather detailed 3D data. The approach du jour for most researchers is something known as Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) -- a laser-based technology capable of creating precise maps over relatively large areas. The Kinect, by contrast, can only see up to 16 feet in front of itself, but at just $120, it's significantly cheaper than the average LIDAR system, which can run for anywhere between $10,000 and $200,000. It's also surprisingly accurate, capable of capturing up to 9 million data points per second.

Mankoff, for one, has already used the device to map a small cavern underneath a glacier in Norway, while Marco Tedesco, a hydrologist at the City College of New York, is looking to attach a Kinect to a remote-controlled helicopter, in the hopes of measuring so-called meltwater lakes found on glaciers during the summer. Then there's Naor Movshovitz, also a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, who's more interested in using the Kinect and its image processing software to figure out how asteroids behave when broken up by a projectile. There are limitations, of course, since the device still has trouble performing amidst severe environmental conditions, though its supporters seem confident they'll find a solution. Read more at the source link below.

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