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Plugged In

Creativity in motion: Six awesome game controller hacks

Plugged In

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Ever since the Nintendo Wii first showed up back in 2006, motion controls have been all the rage. Microsoft Kinect, PlayStation Move, and Nintendo's Wiimote have become household names -- but if you thought they were just clever toys, we're about to blow your mind.

Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of enthusiastic hackers, the motion-sensing tech behind today's games consoles has been turned to purposes far more imaginative and diverse than their creators ever dreamt possible.

Here are a half dozen of the most creative.

Kinect Jedibot

Search your feelings: you know this to be pretty cool.

The perfect tool for honing your Jedi skills, this hack lets you take on a cold, remorseless robot in a no-holds-barred lightsaber duel. The robot swings a wooden practice lightsaber once every two or three seconds, and you use your Force-sensitive saber skills (and a similar wooden sword) to block. The robot sees where you're swinging using a Kinect sensor, and reacts accordingly. It's the work of a team of Stanford University students, who created the 'bot as part of their Experimental Robotics class. Let's hope they never turn to the Dark Side.


Wiimote Theremin

Beloved by electronics geeks, prog-rock hippies, and B-movie soundtrack composers, the theremin is one of music's oddest instruments. Hacker Ken Moore created this Wii-powered theremin simulator that recreates all the wibbly-wobbly weirdness of the original electronic instrument using a Wiimote.

Why? Good question. But some folks out there like their otherworldly sound, and as Moore points out, using a Wiimote is actually a good deal more flexible than the theremin's traditional playing method. There's no accounting for taste.


Kinect Fitnect

Shopping for clothes over the Internet is a tough proposition. How many times have you bought a cool-looking shirt or pair of pants that turned out to be horrible once they arrived?

This innovative Kinect hack promises to make all that a thing of the past: it's a virtual dressing room that overlays images of different clothes onto a live video image of you. How's that for convenience? Cool though a lightsaber robot or Wiimote theremin would be, this has got to be the gaming hack that most deserves to be made into a real product.


Kinect Turntable 3D Scanner

Regular flat-bed scanners are a dime a dozen, but full-featured 3D scanners — those that can create three-dimensional computerized representations of anything you place in front of them -- cost serious money.

This hacked-together version puts some much older tech to work to solve the problem at a fraction of the cost: it uses a record turntable to make the target object rotate, a Kinect sensor to do the actual scanning, and a PC running customized software to put it all together. MacGyver would be proud.


Wiimote lawnmower

Nobody likes mowing the lawn, especially in the height of summer. Everybody, however, likes driving cool robots and waving Wii remotes.

So what could be better than Casmobot? It's a project from a Danish university that uses the Wii's controller to command a huge, awesome, robotic lawnmower. Somehow we suspect the hardware cost is going to make this impractical for most homeowners, which is probably for the best, because when Skynet takes over and the machines start fighting back, this lawnmower's going to be looking to mulch something a lot messier than grass clippings. Be afraid.


PS Move measures the rotation of the Earth

For whatever reason, hacks for Sony's PlayStation Move system aren't anywhere near as popular as they are for its competitors.

That said, here's one experiment that puts the Move's ultra-sensitive gyroscopes to an innovative use: leave this apparatus running for long enough, and it'll measure the rotation speed of the Earth. If you prefer, it can also tell you your latitude, or point out magnetic North. So there you go: next time you go on a road trip, pack an old turntable and a PS Move. You'll never be lost.

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