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Working with the Azure Kinect Developer Kit

Microsoft announced its Azure Kinect camera modules alongside HoloLens 2 early in 2019. Both devices use the same mixed-reality camera module, using a time-of-flight depth sensor to map objects around the camera. But where HoloLens is a wearable mixed-reality device, the Azure Kinect modules are intended to provide Azure-hosted machine learning applications with connected sensors that can be mounted anywhere in a workspace.

Azure Kinect is a direct descendent of the second-generation Kinect modules that shipped with the Xbox One, but instead of providing real-world inputs for gaming, it’s targeted at enterprise users and applications. Intended to work with Azure’s Cognitive Services, the first Azure Kinect developer kit started shipping at the end of 2019 in the United States, adding several other countries in early 2020.

Opening the box

The $399 Azure Kinect Developer Kit is a small white unit with two camera lenses, one for a wide-angle RGB camera and one for the Kinect depth sensor, and an array of microphones. It has an orientation sensor, allowing you to use the camera to build complex 3-D images of environments, ready for use in mixed reality. You can chain multiple devices together for quick 3-D scans or to provide coverage of an entire room, using the orientation sensor to help understand device position.

Along with the camera unit, you get a power supply, an Allen key to remove the chaining ports cover, and a USB cable to connect to a development PC. I’d recommend getting a desktop tripod or another type of mount, as the bundled plastic stand is rather small and doesn’t work with most desks or monitors. There’s no software in the box, only a link to online documentation where you can download the device SDK.

Before you get started, you should update the device firmware. This ships with the SDK and includes a command line installation tool. When you run the updater it first checks the current firmware state before installing camera and device firmware and then rebooting. Once the camera has rebooted, use the same tool to check that the update has installed successfully. If there’s a problem with an install you can use the camera’s hardware reset (hidden under the tripod mount) to restore the original factory image.

Sensing the world

With the SDK installed you get access to the device sensors from your code. There are three SDKs: one for low-level access to all the camera’s sensors, another to use the familiar Kinect body-tracking features, and one to link the camera’s microphone array to Azure’s speech services. A prebuilt Kinect Viewer app shows the available camera views and streams data from the device’s sensors. You get access to the wide-angle RGB camera, a depth camera view, and the image from the depth sensor’s infrared camera. SDKs are available for both Windows and for Linux, specifically Canonical’s Ubuntu 18.04 LTS release, and can be downloaded directly from Microsoft or from GitHub.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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