TechFest 2007: The geek candy shop

Yesterday I got a chance to experience TechFest 2007, an annual look into what Microsoft Research is working on. For those of us who love cutting-edge technology, it’s a golden ticket to Wonka-land. In the last 16 years, Microsoft Research has become the unseen hand guiding some of the coolest technologies we use every day. Speech recognition, Vista and Office UI elements, even the fur on animals in Xbox games all started in a Microsoft lab.

The New Concepts for the Home booth included a “digital postcard” gadget for the living room, a “visual answering machine” for the kitchen, but most interesting to me was a system to send short clips of the TV shows you are watching to the mobile phone of your friends. In the Graphics and Media section I saw software that automatically removes “um’s” and other extraneous parts from your Podcast as well as processes for keywords or automatic summaries (VERY COOL!) There was an HD plug-in for viewing gigapixel images online and 360-degree panoramic video in Internet Explorer. There is also a prototype authoring tool that generates content for this plug-in.

There was an Xbox 360 game called Boku that teaches high level programming concepts to kids who may not be ready to grasp the complexity of a computer language. It uses behavior arbitration (set a character to move toward or avoid others, or just wander around), and real time feedback using sensors, physics, and message passing. There was a booth for directed sound (ala the ads in Minority Report) that would allow officemates to both be on speakerphone calls without interrupting each other and a dynamic noise reduction system for making it easier to hear audio in a restaurant or in traffic.

There was a system for taking a picture of a DVD, painting, or band poster on a telephone pole using a Smartphone that brings up dynamic information like reviews or more information about the product. A “Surface Computing Innovation” booth had the most buzz with real-time interaction between people at distance playing chess with real pieces on one side and projected pieces on your opponent’s side. There was also a demo of a projected car on a table top that would drive around hopping over paper ramps and hills that were actually on the table.

And those are just the things I can talk about. Smiley Laura Foy was there with a camera, so stay tuned for more on TechFest 2007.

More on TechFest 2007: WiredEngadgetCNN, Don Dodge, My Geek News. And of course, don't forget to check out Channel 9's coverage.

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