Microsoft continues to touch our hearts

Software behemoth Microsoft has also been in the forefront of hardware almost forever – hey don’t forget the mouse. Although it’s been a little bit late to the game with tablets and that, it has multiple projects that it believes will be game changers in the future.

Alex Butler, senior research director, at Microsoft Cambridge, showed off quite a number of projects that may, one day, be turned into products you can buy.

Butler told the audience at IEF2013 in Dublin: “Touch is everywhere in today’s age and we’re all used to touching, typing and swiping. We think this is all very natural. New hardware enables new types of software and touch has just opened the door.”

Butler’s unit – Microsoft Research – has 850 futuristic people around the world.  “We’re a little like a university, looking 5, 10 or 15 years ahead without being tied to products,” he said. “Stuff does feed into the product line. The applied sciences group look at new materials and technologies.”

He said that Microsoft continues to work on the surface table – that’s a table not a tablet folks, but, he said,  it’s still a little underexploited. Microsoft wants to create a very thin table design that uses infrared to sense a whole variety of objects. It’s essentially a low resolution camera with 1,000 sensors in it, he said.

It’s also experimenting with SideSight for small form factors using side sensors, which works much lke paper.  Mouse 2.0 adds multi-touch to a mouse and uses diffuse illumination.

A project called Digits which involves a camera worn on your body that leaves your fingers free, allows you to, for example, turn virtual knobs.

KinectFusion lets you digitise 3D into building a model of anything you’re looking at and lets you perform virtual touch on practically anything.  It’s extended that to scalable KinectFusion which lets you walk through a space and digitise the entire world you’re perambulating.

It’s also working on Augmented Projectors using handheld projectors. Its Surface Physics software allows simulation including forces like friction.

Microsoft is working on fusing pen and touch as well as working on proximity and hover technologies. Its SecondLight project uses a sheet which can be made opaque or milky and uses touch and a camera to virtually lift objects off the screen and drop them elsewhere on the display.  

It’s also working on see through 3D to develop things in other dimensions.  Vermeer is a stereographic display that also uses holographs. It renders 3,000 frames a second to generate all the views.  

Another project works on soft ferro-magnetic input devices which are basically squishy rather than hard surfaces. Its TouchMover is an activated 3D display which pushes back.

Butler said that one of the obstacles to its research is that LCD manufacturers don’t appear to want to develop the high speed technology that could essentially enable a new era of touch applications. He demonstrated a 1000Hz project that uses ultra touch so response to your finger appeared instantaneous.  There’s a little too much latency, or slowness as we call it, in current LCD tech.