The Windows Kinect, Ray-Tracing and Windows Azure

Sign in to queue


Today's cutting edge demo provides an example of how the cloud and the Kinect can be used together to create a very interesting demo...

256 Windows Azure Worker Roles, Windows Kinect and a 90's Text-Based Ray-Tracer

For a couple of years I have been demoing a simple render farm hosted in Windows Azure using worker roles and the Azure Storage service. At the start of the presentation I deploy an Azure application that uses 16 worker roles to render a 1,500 frame 3D ray-traced animation. At the end of the presentation, when the animation was complete, I would play the animation delete the Azure deployment. The standing joke with the audience was that it was that it was a “$2 demo”, as the compute charges for running the 16 instances for an hour was $1.92, factor in the bandwidth charges and it’s a couple of dollars. The point of the demo is that it highlights one of the great benefits of cloud computing, you pay for what you use, and if you need massive compute power for a short period of time using Windows Azure can work out very cost effective.

The “$2 demo” was great for presenting at user groups and conferences in that it could be deployed to Azure, used to render an animation, and then removed in a one hour session. I have always had the idea of doing something a bit more impressive with the demo, and scaling it from a “$2 demo” to a “$30 demo”. The challenge was to create a visually appealing animation in high definition format and keep the demo time down to one hour. This article will take a run through how I achieved this.



The challenge now was to make a cool animation. The Azure Logo is fine, but it is static. Using a normal video to animate the pins would not work; the colors in the video would not be the same as the depth of the objects from the camera. In order to simulate the pin board accurately a series of frames from a depth camera could be used.

Windows Kinect

The Kenect controllers for the X-Box 360 and Windows feature a depth camera. The Kinect SDK for Windows provides a programming interface for Kenect, providing easy access for .NET developers to the Kinect sensors. The Kinect Explorer provided with the Kinect SDK is a great starting point for exploring Kinect from a developers perspective. Both the X-Box 360 Kinect and the Windows Kinect will work with the Kinect SDK, the Windows Kinect is required for commercial applications, but the X-Box Kinect can be used for hobby projects. The Windows Kinect has the advantage of providing a mode to allow depth capture with objects closer to the camera, which makes for a more accurate depth image for setting the pin positions.

Creating a Depth Field Animation

The depth field animation used to set the positions of the pin in the pin board was created using a modified version of the Kinect Explorer sample application. In order to simulate the pin board accurately, a small section of the depth range from the depth sensor will be used. Any part of the object in front of the depth range will result in a white pixel; anything behind the depth range will be black. Within the depth range the pixels in the image will be set to RGB values from 0,0,0 to 255,255,255.




The render farm is a hybrid application with the following components:


  • Windows Kinect – Used combined with the Kinect Explorer to create a stream of depth images.
  • Animation Creator – This application uses the depth images from the Kinect sensor to create scene description files for PolyRay. These files are then uploaded to the jobs blob container, and job messages added to the jobs queue.
  • Process Monitor – This application queries the role instance lifecycle table and displays statistics about the render farm environment and render process.
  • Image Downloader – This application polls the image queue and downloads the rendered animation files once they are complete.

Windows Azure

  • Azure Storage – Queues and blobs are used for the scene description files and completed frames. A table is used to store the statistics about the rendering environment.


Effective Use of Resources

According to the CloudRay monitor statistics the animation took 6 days, 7 hours and 22 minutes CPU to render, this works out at 152 hours of compute time, rounded up to the nearest hour. As the usage for the worker role instances are billed for the full hour, it may have been possible to render the animation using fewer than 256 worker roles. When deciding the optimal usage of resources, the time required to provision and start the worker roles must also be considered. In the demo I started with 16 worker roles, and then scaled the application to 256 worker roles. It would have been more optimal to start the application with maybe 200 worker roles, and utilized the full hour that I was being billed for. This would, however, have prevented showing the ease of scalability of the application.

The new management portal displays the CPU usage across the worker roles in the deployment.

The average CPU usage across all instances is 93.27%, with over 99% used when all the instances are up and running. This shows that the worker role resources are being used very effectively.

Grid Computing Scenarios

Although I am using this scenario for a hobby project, there are many scenarios where a large amount of compute power is required for a short period of time. Windows Azure provides a great platform for developing these types of grid computing applications, and can work out very cost effective.

· Windows Azure can provide massive compute power, on demand, in a matter of minutes.

· The use of queues to manage the load balancing of jobs between role instances is a simple and effective solution.

· Using a cloud-computing platform like Windows Azure allows proof-of-concept scenarios to be tested and evaluated on a very low budget.

· No charges for inbound data transfer makes the uploading of large data sets to Windows Azure Storage services cost effective. (Transaction charges still apply.)

Project Information URL:

Contact Information:

The Discussion

  • User profile image
    Alan Smith

    If you liked this demo, plase vote for it in the Azure Fast competition:



Add Your 2 Cents