The Kinect: a low-cost, high-resolution, short-range 3D camera


Correspondence to: Kenneth David Mankoff, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 USA. E-mail:


We present a novel application of the Kinect™, an input device designed for the Microsoft® Xbox 360® video game system. The device can be used by Earth scientists as a low-cost, high-resolution, short-range 3D/4D camera imaging system producing data similar to a terrestrial light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensor. The Kinect contains a structured light emitter, an infrared camera (the combination of these two produce a distance image), a visual wavelength camera, a three-axis accelerometer, and four microphones. The cost is ~ US $100, frame rate is 30 Hz, spatial and depth resolutions are mm to cm depending on range, and the optimal operating range is 0.5 to ~5 m. The resolution of the distance measurements decreases with distance and is ≤1 mm at 0.5 m and ~75 mm at 5 m. We illustrate data collection and basic data analysis routines in three experiments designed to demonstrate the breadth and utility of this new sensor in domains of glaciology, stream bathymetry, and geomorphology, although the device is applicable to a number of other Earth science fields. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.