The Microsoft Kinect is a very cheap 3d vision system that provides performance somewhere between stereo cameras and more expensive time-of-flight (eg:PMD) cameras. It was actually something I was hoping would come out before the end of the MAGIC 2010 competition, but unfortunately the release date was scheduled for after the end of the competition.
The device was "hacked" almost immediately after its release and it has already been widely adopted, I think this will do wonders for the robotics/computer vision/stereo-vision community. So far all we have seen are relatively simple applications, but I'm sure people will start pushing the interpretation of the data to its limits soon, especially given that game-developers are now going to be playing with this kind of data. The Wii has already done fantastic things to push the knowledge of filtering and dealing with noisy sensor data to a wider audience, and I expect the Kinect will have a similar effect.
It all started with Adafruit offering $2000 bounty for the Kinect hack, which was promptly won by Hector Martin on the 10th of November.
One of the first videos (now viral!) to do the rounds was from Oliver Kreylos showing the 3d data fused with image data and rendered in OpenGL.
Of course, it didn't stop there, other people are trying to hack the rest of the USB Kinect protocol for the inclinometer and motor controls, and trying to figure out how the Kinect IR works.
Willow Garage has already begun work on integrating the Kinect to ROS including calibration functions, and Philip Robbel managed to integrate the Kinect with a Hokuyo to do visual SLAM (using MRPT) only 7 days after the hack was released.
Hopefully we will see more practical uses for the Kinect soon! Wired published a nice story on the development path at Microsoft of the Kinect.
The best thing about this "hack" is that it has inspired others to do the same, most notably the $800 reward for hacking the Neato Robotics XV-11 vacuum cleaner LIDAR. (Whitepaper here!). At only $300 (or even $30!) for a 360 degree, 6m range, 10Hz scanning LIDAR this would do great things for the robotics community as well. Sparkfun have already made some interesting progress with their LIDAR tear-down.