by April 1, 2009 0 comments

An event like TechFest is a feast for any technology enthusiast. Technologies
varying from next generation of social networking to new age user interactions
that remind you of some sci-fi movies and many other innovating projects were
demonstrated at this year’s event.

This year’s event was held on Feb 24th at Microsoft Campus in Redmond, where
the researchers demoed around 40 projects that showed the glimpse of what
tomorrow’s computing would be like. Addressing the media at the event, Craig
Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer said ‘Research is part
of Microsoft’s DNA and we’re committed to this investment in research to enable
our researchers and developers to continue advancing the technology for
challenging societal problems and pushing the boundaries of computing in
exciting ways.’ Alongside Mundie, Rick Rashid, the senior vice president of MS
Research also reaffirmed the company’s commitment towards basic research that
has benefited several Microsoft products and said that ‘Research projects at
TechFest are the technological hints that the future holds. We’ve shown touch
technologies in past which are now part of Microsoft Surface computing, while
artificial intelligence projects now enhance the Windows Live search.’ And its
true, that all projects that are showcased at the event do not end up as a whole
new branded product. Some projects get incorporated into existing or an upcoming
product and some projects go back to the drawing board for further development
or starting anew.

Rick Rashid and
Craig Mundie addressing the media persons at the TechFest event.

This year at the TechFest, the focus seemed to be on harnessing social
networking better and the expansion of Microsoft’s Surface technology. The
projects ranged from user interface technologies to new datacenter technologies
that may reduce the costs of datacenters. Here are some of the interesting

SecondLight: A new surface computing technology that can project
images and detect gestures in mid-air above the display surface. The display
surface itself supports the multi-touch interactions. The mid-air projection of
images and detecting gestures is somewhat similar from a sci-fi movie like
‘Minority Report’. It was the most crowded booth at the event. SecondLight opens
a whole new realm of User Interaction, and we have talked more about it and
other UI technologies in a separate story in this issue.

Automated Front-Desk Receptionist: Imagine a life-like on-screen avatar on a
computer screen that emulates the tasks of a front-desk receptionist like
registering visitors and even engage in conversation with visitors. This project
know as “Situated Interaction” explores the ways how human and machines can

Researchers of MSR
India demonstrate how books can be digitized and with a projector, to the
whole class.

The project aims at interactive systems that can reason about their
surroundings and interact with natural flow of everyday tasks and activities.
The system integrates various AI technologies like speech-recognition, person
detection and tracking, intention recognition and modeling, all these into a
conversational framework that can engage in interactions with one or multiple

The system can well be suited for a hotel reservation desk where visitors can
do check-in for their rooms and also inquire about their booking status for
services they asked for like cab booking.

Technology for Rural Education: While other projects demonstrated
technologies of higher level, this project from Microsoft Research India focused
on using the lowest level of technology that would be required to bring the
education to the rural areas. They demonstrated how a single PC in a classroom
can be used for better student interaction with the technology-naive teacher. In
another education project, they showed how several books can be digitized and
played on a standard DVD, using the fast-forward button to move from page to
page. Schools that cant afford to have many books can still have a library in
form of such DVDs. The students can take such DVDs back home and view them, as
even in rural areas more than 70% people have access to TVs and DVD players.
Even in a class, such digitized book in form of a DVD can be shared by an entire
classroom on a TV. Thus with this limited technology that is pervasive in rural
areas today, education can be delivered effectively.

Low-Power Processors in Datacenter: This demo showed a prototype dataceneter
based on Intel Atom processors, which resulted in offering 33 to 50 percent of
performance of a hig-perfromance processors based datacentrers but consumed just
upto 10 percent of the power. This way the costs of datacenters can be brought
down and also huge energy can be saved.

Christian Borgs,
Dy. MD, MSR, New England explains the Gale-Berlekamp Light-Bulb game to demo
time-approximation for approximating problems within a given precision.

There were some other projects like ‘Video stitching’, whereby in real-time
basis the video generated and streamed via mobiles can be stitched together to
create a larger frame. This can potentially be used for purpose of citizen
journalism or even for social multimedia-sharing sites. There was a Light-Bulb
game also which challenged visitors to minimize the number of lit light bulbs by
flipping switches. The idea behind was to stress on how algorithms can be useful
in such calculations.

Despite being showcased at the event, these innovating technologies aren’t
guaranteed to see the daylight in form of a product, but may eventually be
integrated in some existing lineup of products of Microsoft.

The author was hosted by Microsoft Research at Bellevue for the event.

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