Microsoft’s R&D projects: A glimpse into the future
Ever since Microsoft entered the scene with its personal computers some half a century back, it has grown across language and national barriers to capture the international market; making the personal computer segment Microsoft’s USP for as long as anyone can remember. So much so that Microsoft’s image has been defined by its PCs… Defined and limited to it. For most consumers, Microsoft is synonymous with its desktop PCs. Microsoft is not exactly known for thinking outside the box – the box holding their PCs, that is.
Well, if you thought so, here’s a surprise! This technology giant has spent several billions on research projects to develop products which even today could grace any science fiction novel. Here’s a look at some of these fantastic ideas Microsoft has been working on which are sure to push the extent of your imagination and change your opinion of the leading desktop manufacturer beyond just that.
Toppling the touchscreen
Imagine checking your email on the back of a box of cereal or even better, making a call using your fingers on the palm of your hand instead of the phone. Too fantastical, you say? Not if Microsoft have their way. Microsoft Research has invested into several projects to find a way to use just about any object as an interactive surface for computing. If these projects do work out as expected, you could have your list of contacts on your fingertips – literally. Who needs a touchscreen phone?
The LightSpace project for instance, involves using several cameras and projectors in order to convert everyday objects into interactive displays. The prerequisite for this is to calibrate the system to the room it is to be used in. Once that is done, users can use their hands to interact with menus and screens projected onto any object. Even better, the user can even move these projected displays from one surface to another. If your desk isn’t large enough, you could simply drag it over to the wall.
Next up is the Omnitouch project. It is a joint project between Microsoft research and the Human- Computer Interaction Institute at the Carnegie-Mellon University and improves upon the LightSpace in that there is no calibration required. It basically involves installing a small pico projector and a 3D scanner on the shoulder. The projector is for displaying images onto a surface and the Kinect-like 3D scanner to turn it into an interactive multi-touch enabled input.
Finally, there’s the SkinPut project – again, a MSR and CMU joint venture – which also uses a projector to project interactive displays onto your arm but it also needs a sensor-packed armband which analyze the vibrations in the user’s arm to determine the location of the touch and respond to it.
Kinecting the world
Kinect was introduced as a peripheral to go with the Xbox 360, but Microsoft intends for it to be much more than just an extension for a gaming device. The KinectFusion project is a case in point. It is used for continuous scanning of the environment to facilitate the development of interactive 3D models. KinectTrack on the other hand, is a cheaper way of tracking the user’s motion precisely in multiple dimensions by decoupling the system’s camera and IR emitter.
Augmenting Reality with Kinect Glasses
The idea of Fortaleza, also known as Kinect Glasses, came out when a document with information about the next generation of Xbox accidentally leaked to the press. The idea is basically that these “augmented reality” glasses are used along with the next Xbox to play games and navigate the Xbox OS. What’s more, the glasses are expected to be Wi-Fi and 4G capable, which means they could be used independently without the Xbox console.
Then there’s Digits – a wrist-mounted gadget from Microsoft which translates user’s hand movements into virtual space. This extends on Kinect in that it can be used on the go. Even though virtual reality is also being researched extensively – even by Microsoft – it is augmented reality that is much more likely to make it big in the near future.
Continuing with Cloud computing
While all the above projects we have seen are by no means small or cheap, the largest chunk of Microsoft’s R&D budget is still allocated to the cloud computing division. If Office 2013 was one step towards the goal of cloud computing, then Windows 8 is one giant leap in that direction. On the latest Windows OS, users can sign in to their Windows Live account and access SkyDrive to store and share their files.
Then there is the idea of using cloud computing to develop Xbox into a much more powerful console by offloading its tasks to different servers, greatly enhancing its power. Not only this, this technology can be used to sync different platforms which can give Microsoft a huge advantage over its competitors in the console market.
Sharing of apps across different surfaces through the cloud is another realistic goal which surely beats having different apps and a different OS on each device. If this works out as planned, then it would greatly enhance the connection between the different gadgets making life much easier for the user.
For most consumers, Microsoft might be considered to be no more than a desktop manufacturer but there is no lack of intent on the part of the company to look towards the future, dream beyond the barriers and more importantly, invest in it. Here’s a look at the wonderful connected world of the future as envisioned by Microsoft.
Now, that’s a far cry from an old desktop PC, isn’t it?