I’ve been at the Microsoft Research Lab in Shanghai today for a sneak preview of some of the technology that their boffins are working on.
There was a whizzy film about how Microsoft sees the future, full of those glass computers that you wave your hands in front of as well as mirrors that let you model your wardrobe virtually and so on (whoever did the design for the movie Minority Report basically created the template of these ‘future’ films).
Then there were glasses that tracked your eye movement, which could one day translate street signs for you into different languages, or create a virtual memory of you daily activities.
There were some interesting projects out of India. One saves the battery life of smart phones by connecting via a cloud computing proxy to the internet. I stead of your phone doing al, the legwork, fetching data and so on, the proxy does it for you and delivers it to your phone in a single burst, saving around 35% on the energy. And it can track where the best signal is, and only download there, for further energy savings.
Another team has put Wikipedia onto a DVD, translating 5,500 entries into photo images that are searchable and linkable. Since only 5pc of people in India have a computer, but many many more have televisions, the aim is to bring knowledge (and it could be any database, not necessarily Wikipedia) into poorer areas.
The technology that was really interesting, however, was the new Kinect system for the Xbox, which basically maps your body onto the screen through sensors.
So far, this sort of visual recognition technology has only been used in games, where a younger audience is more forgiving and doesn’t require the same level of precision, but Microsoft is aiming to roll the idea out across the computing spectrum.
While a keyboard and mouse is likely to continue to be the best way of controlling your home computer, in other situations you may well find yourself waving your hands to control things. In large projections, such as presentations, it mays more sense to use your hands than a mouse, and smaller computers, mounted on the side of objects to control them, could end up being voice-activated.
And Microsoft is possibly the only company that straddles both gaming and personal computing and can bring these gadgets to the mainstream. It’s exciting stuff.