"Breathing Life into the Workspace" with the Kinect

Today's inspirational project shows how Microsoft Research has people thinking outside of the box...

Like To Flirt At The Office Water Cooler? A Microsoft Intern Built A Water Cooler That Flirts Back

Some of the projects Microsoft interns create are hilarious.

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As cool as that sounds, her summer internship at Microsoft was even cooler because it involved an actual water cooler.

She spent the summer turning ordinary objects into interactive games and placed them in renovated buildings around the Microsoft campus. Using a Kinect sensor, she built a water cooler that flirts with you.

Stare into its bubbly eyes and it stares back.

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Lab Environment Motivates Interns - Breathing Life into the Workspace

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Halley Profita’s Ph.D. work at the University of Colorado Boulder is oriented around human-computer interaction (HCI) for health/assistive applications. She has a special interest in smart fabrics that use distributed computation to explore novel sensing and interface designs in garments. When it came to her summer project at Microsoft Research Redmond, though, program manager Donald Brinkman of Microsoft Research Connections challenged Profita with a unique opportunity that also used her Master of Industrial Design degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The opportunity? To design interactive games and installations for the newly renovated Buildings 5 and 6 on the Microsoft campus.

“The goal was to breathe life into the workspace,” Profita explains. “We wanted to explore ways of integrating technology further into the workplace in order to promote company culture and encourage interconnectedness and general well-being. This meant addressing multiple factors such as HCI design, maintenance of personal health, gaming and engagement elements, workplace and life-space balance and support, and intellectual imagination.”

Profita used in-house technology, such as Kinect and .NET Gadgeteer, to create engaging, interactive installations for the buildings that complemented the office environment while offering an added health component. The result? A water cooler that flirts to garner increased usage and a wall unit that teaches calming tai chi moves.

Meanwhile, her own work environment at the lab has been a highlight of the summer.

“Microsoft Research is a place where interns are encouraged to explore far-reaching questions and apply out-of-the-box problem solving,” she says. “It’s been an invaluable experience. I’ve been able to interact and learn from experts in the HCI field, meet people from various product groups, and learn about the full gamut of initiatives at Microsoft. The opportunity to leverage my creative background to address pertinent research issues has strengthened my desire to pursue a research career.”

Project Information URL: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/news/features/interns13-082613.aspx

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