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Meet Microsoft, the world's best kept R&D secret

Matt Smith | Jan. 3, 2013
As far as 99.9 per cent of the world population is concerned, Microsoft is a stodgy, old-guard technology company. Its bottom line is fully leveraged against PC operating systems and business software--hardly the building blocks of a future-thinking portfolio, right?

There are many examples. Kinect Fusion allows for continuous, real-time scanning of an environment in order to create interactive 3D models, and it's coming to the Kinect for Windows SDK sometime soon. KinectTrack decouples the system's IR emitter and camera to precisely track a user's motion in multiple dimensions, mimicking the utility of expensive sensing systems with a $99 console accessory. SuperKid lets children create movies in real-time, complete with an array of interactive and customizable props. It doesn't sound revolutionary, but check out the awesome video below.

Systems like Kinect are likely to drive new interfaces that rely on movement rather than touch. Users could check email while washing dishes or pause a video from across a room. Kinect started as a gaming peripheral, but it might one day turn the PC into an ever-present device that can be controlled from any room at any time.

And that's not even touching on the robotics angle, where the Kinect has proven nothing short of revolutionary. The video below shows a robot playing catch, pseudo-juggling with multiple balls (and the help of a human with a second hand), and shaking its head in shame whenever it misses a catch. At the heart of this Disney Research creation? You guessed it--the Kinect.

Holodeck

The Xbox was Microsoft's ticket into the living room. Now that it's there, it has big plans--plans that may eventually transform your family space into a something like Star Trek's famous holodeck.

Microsoft appears to be approaching the idea from at least two different directions. One method attempts to create a "magic wall" by combining a massive display powered by innovative "flat lens" LED technology with motion tracking and touch-input technology. The imagined result is an interface that can display detailed content and respond to a variety of touch and motion gestures.

Microsoft's current prototype "window" already supports glasses-free 3D by beaming specific stereoscopic images to each of your eyes, and it's able to beam different images to different users. Basically, you could be immersed in one scene while your friend standing next to you stares at something else entirely. (And yes, it tracks your head motion.)

Another approach, recently unveiled in a patent application, uses 360-degree projection that could turn your living room into a virtual environment. The television remains the central point of reference and the projector is used fill in peripheral details. Motion-tracking is used to enhance the simulation and keep the projector from sending light towards the user's eyes. The patent focuses on gaming, but it's not hard to imagine the same technology be used for virtual tours of distant locations or movies that provides 360 degrees of immersion.

 

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