Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 01: Microsoft Kinect, “Most Hackable Gadget”

It is my great pleasure to kick off the first ever MAKE Magazine Industry Maker Award season with a nomination that will probably raise a few eyebrows. We nominate Microsoft Corporation, for their gestural and natural-language video game controller, the Kinect, in the “Most Hackable Gadget” category.

In many ways, Microsoft as a company, and Kinect in particular, represent the absolute antithesis of “hacker friendly.” Opening a Kinect sensor, you encounter tamper-resistant fasteners, glues instead of screws, proprietary connectors, and several other manufacturer no-nos specifically listed in The Maker’s Bill of Rights. But with its relatively low cost and extremely impressive capabilities, the sheer potential of Kinect to facilitate creative hacks in robotics, performance, gaming, interface design–or any of a dozen other fields that readily come to mind–is hard to overstate, a fact amply demonstrated by the amazing body of work already produced by the Kinect-hacking community in the few months since its release.

But there is, in the Kinect story, one very specific decision by Microsoft that we feel cinches the nomination. First released on November 4, 2010, a bounty on the first working open-source Kinect driver was claimed by Hector Martin on November 10. Microsoft rattled its saber, publicly threatening software countermeasures and legal action to protect against “the modification of its products.” After a period of controversy during which the EFF weighed in, Microsoft representatives reversed the company’s previous position in a public radio interview on November 21:

FLATOW: So you have no problem… with the people using the open-source drivers then?

Ms. LOFTIS (Microsoft): As an experienced creator, I’m very excited to see that people are so inspired that it was less than a week after the Kinect came out before they had started creating and thinking about what they could do.

FLATOW: So no one is going to get in trouble?

Mr. KIPMAN (Microsoft): Nope. Absolutely not.

Ms. LOFTIS (Microsoft): No.

FLATOW: You heard it right from the mouth of Microsoft.

And for that, Microsoft, we salute you. Keep it up.

If you have a suggestion for a company to be nominated for “Most Hackable Gadget,” or one of the other three 2011 Makey awards, please send us an e-mail or leave a comment, below.


I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan