Famed Wii Hacker Part of Project Natal

Lee.Last month we ran a highlight on Johnny Chung Lee, the notorious Wiimote hacker responsible for making things like smartboards, multi-point touchscreens, and virtual 3D environments capable of responding to a user’s location, all from a $30 Wiimote. Lee gained notoriety not only for creating complex equipment from simple parts, but because he kept his work free, available on YouTube and his own website.

Well Lee’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed, particularly by Microsoft. Remember that little thing they debuted yesterday? Project Natal? Yeah, that little game-changer (both the development game and the game itself). As it turns out, Microsoft managed to yank Lee away from his Wiimote hacks (probably by stuffing his pockets) to work on the development team for Project Natal.

“Now, I should preface by saying I don’t deserve credit for anything that you saw at E3,” Lee wrote in a blog post last night. “A large team of very smart, very hard-working people were involved in building the demos you saw on stage. The part I am working on has much more to do with making sure this can transition from the E3 stage to your living room – for which there is an even larger team of very smart, very hard-working people involved.”

Hard work indeed. If you haven’t seen the demo videos, you need to, because Natal points to some really groundbreaking possibilities. As Lee puts things, “We would all love to one day have our own personal holodeck. This is a pretty measurable step in that direction.”

I said yesterday that I was having trouble being skeptical about Natal. It is some incredible technology, but my excitement’s wearing off and I’m beginning to think my dreams are probably bigger than the device. Can it really be as great as Lee says? And when he says a step, how big is that step (and obviously it’s one of MANY before we’re anywhere close to a holodeck)? Are you bouncing-off-the-walls excited or just watching from the corner of your eye?

I do know this, if Lee is involved, Microsoft is compiling a pretty incredible team, and it would take a load of bureaucratic problems to turn their hard work into a lackluster device.

Can the Wiimote Change the World?

The world-changing Wiimote.I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about the crazy things people do with a Wiimote for a while now and a recent Ubergizmo post finally tipped the scales. Ubergizmo reports that a team of scientists are working to make the Wiimote usable for radiologists, allowing doctors to flip through patient files and images with gestures instead of the tried-and-sometimes-limiting keyboard and mouse. Personally, I imagine it to be something like the computer from Minority Report, wherein Tom Cruise sends images and video clips flying off screen, pulling others in to be resized, viewed from alternate angles, and relit to solve futuristic crimes.

All of that for $30? With a little programming knowledge, yes. The Wiimote IR camera is remarkably advanced, despite its low cost. Researcher Johnny Chung Lee (pictured in the video below) has devoted loads of time and research into getting the most out of Nintendo’s controller, and he’s made his discoveries public. Armed with a Wiimote and a few infrared dots, Lee has created a digital whiteboard, a multi-point touchscreen, and even a 3D environment capable of sensing a user’s movements and adjusting accordingly.

With researchers like Lee, Wiimote hacks are becoming increasingly complex and remaining completely free, allowing users and researchers to build off the wacky things accomplished with incredibly low-cost hardware. To see Lee’s work in action, check out the video below. The clip comes from TED, a website you should absolutely be watching.