Announced at Microsoft's Press Conference by super-geek rockstar Kudo Tsunoda, Kinect Fun Labs is a new set of interactive tools that users can download for free. Although they're all fairly gimmicky and short lived, it's pleasing to see Microsoft expanding on what the Kinect hardware can achieve. And although they don't add a lot to the world of gaming at this stage, it's certainly worth checking them out for free.
Kinect Fun Labs is an application "hub" with additional apps planned to be added shortly, such as Avatar Kinect set for release in July 2011 (mentioned later in this article). Everything created in Fun Labs can be shared via kinectShare.com and then via friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Avatar Kinect, available behind closed doors at E3 looks to be the most impressive part of Fun Labs. Most people enjoy having avatars and creating virtual versions of themselves, but often the process can be long and tedious. With Avatar Kinect all it takes is a couple of quick photos and within a couple of minutes you'll be staring at a virtual version of yourself, mimicking your every move. In fact the scanning technology was so impressive, not only did the facial features match mine, my new avatar even had a matching Felix the cat t-shirt on (albeit a slightly drunk looking Felix). The only problem was my skin was pretty dark, as if I had been spending my entire E3 trip in Santa Monica, but no matter what anyone tells you this is a lie. It actually turns out it was due to the unusual lighting in the booth.
So far it appears that not much can be done with these quick scan avatars but it'll only be a matter of time before all your Xbox avatars are made this way. It's quick and painless and a lot of fun.
The other applications in Fun Labs aren't quite so helpful, but still offer a few laughs. You can scan in objects like your favorite soft-toy, a lamp or even your cat and watch it come to life in a digital form on screen. From there you'll be able to animate it as if it were a living breathing creature and even chuck googly eyes on it. I heard one slightly disturbing story of a Microsoft rep scanning in their newborn baby and making it dance.
The last little activity is called Sparkler and was an impressive use of the 3D capabilities of the Kinect camera. It allows you to take a photo of yourself in a crazy pose, and then a second photo of you in the background. The software then combines the two photos and adds a level of depth between them in an augmented reality manner that the user can view from different angles. The reason it's called Sparkler is that with Kinect's all new "finger tracking" users can draw all around the image with sparkling light effects, including between the two versions of you on screen. The end result is pretty sweet and will probably impress your friends and family when shared online.
Fun Labs is an interesting set of tech demos for Kinect and considering it's free, you should download it if you have the hardware. Although they'll be forgotten about soon, it's great to see the team at Microsoft trying to get more out of the Kinect technology. But there's no doubt that the Avatar scanner will be a huge asset to the device when it is hopefully finalised soon.
The Good: It's free.
The Bad: It's not much use yet
The Ugly: Some of the avatars can be a little freaky looking.