Last week Microsoft Research held the 2008 edition of their annual Faculty Summit in Redmond complete with the release of free academic-flavored software tools and demos of Microsoft Research and faculty research projects. The biggest buzz was over the multi-touch Sphere display which uses a refinement of Microsoft’s Surface technology, but frankly it seems mostly useful as a prop for the villain in the next James Bond movie.
Looking over the full list of demo projects yields a number of others which are more likely to be of real utility including the following for "touch" fans which appeal to my prejudice that I don’t want my screen smudged up, thanks.
Ilya Rosenberg and Ken Perlin present the UnMousePad, a paper thin, flexible multi-touch device about size of a mouse pad. The UnMousePad not only continuously detects a multitude of touches, it also senses varying levels of pressure at a resolution high enough to distinguish multiple fingertips and even the tip of a pen or pencil. Because of its form-factor, it can be used for simple mouse input, for multi-touch gestures, or for a wide variety of interactive applications, such as games, 3D sculpting, 6DOF object manipulation, musical instruments, and interactive control of synthesized human voice.
LucidTouch is a new type of touch screen device. It prevents the user’s fingers from occluding screen contents by allowing users to interact with the backside of the device, yet providing visual control by means of "pseudo-transparency." The benefit of this approach is that it allows making very small touch devices, which is not possible with traditional touch screen technology.
When I starting reading the latter description I thought it implied worse contortions than the average desktop touch screen, but for small devices it seems interesting, not to mention novel. Here’s more (including videos) on both the UnMousePad and the LucidTouch.
Last night was the kickoff of the D6 conference and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were the opening act. Aside from a little light comedy and some reminiscences, the big news was a teaser for Windows 7 which will have multi-touch support for PCs with the requisite touch screen hardware.
The applications shown seem to be PC versions (e.g. no bar coded foreign objects) of those demonstrated with Microsoft’s Surface table kiosk system (aka "Big ass table") which was demoed last year at D5. Touch screens have been around for Windows seemingly forever via third parties and while it may be useful for kiosk builders to have the support baked into Windows 7, it is hardly the kind of thing that will draw the crowds. Still, it makes a nice demo and that’s the point after all.
You might also care to check out the Ring of Fire song which makes light of Xbox 360 repair problems. In case you think it is all Microsoft bashing, see the “tribute” to the Sony Ps3 – How to Kill Your Brand.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer got his turn on the D5 conference hot seat today, but his performance mostly seems to have been soporific:
In a genial interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg Wednesday morning, Ballmer presented a picture of a plodding, predictable, unexciting company. He couldn’t quite say when Microsoft will make some progress against Google (GOOG) in its weak share in Internet search. He couldn’t say why exactly the new Vista operating system was overly complex when it was released. He didn’t particularly enlighten the audience on just why Microsoft is paying $6 billion to buy online ad agency aQuantive (AQNT). By the way, Ballmer won’t mention Google’s name, referring to it merely as “the market leader;”
Nice touch. (more…)