XBox One? What XBox One? — Microsoft brings cutting-edge tech to Washington

May 22, 2013

Microsoft Research was in town Tuesday, and there wasn’t an XBox One in sight. Instead, the company brought along technology that has yet to — or may never — hit store shelves.


Microsoft Research’s Michel Pahud demonstrates the “Actuated 3-D Display with Haptic Feedback” during the Microsoft TechFair in Washington, D.C. (Emi Kolawole for The Washington Post)

All of the technologies on hand were introduced earlier in the year. But every other year, said a public relations representative on hand at Microsoft’s Innovation & Policy Center in D.C., the company brings the technologies to the nation’s capital to showcase them for customers, academics, lawmakers and other industry leaders. Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Research USA, was on the Hill earlier in the day for an event (no, he did not run into Apple CEO Tim Cook) to talk about the importance of federal funding for university research. All of the work done on the projects featured during the TechFair, said Lee, were done in collaboration with educational institutions.

But the big, national news from Microsoft that day was around XBox, and the company’s unveiling of XBox One. Asked about the new release, Lee said that the idea behind the console “is kind of a seamlessness … where the idea of launching an app starts to disappear.”

But, for all of its new features, the technology, said Lee, “is just barely scratching the surface.”

Lee also addressed Leap Motion, which released a video this week featuring how the touch-free gesture technology interacts with Windows.

“We’re thrilled with Leap Motion,” said Lee, “I think that is just the tip of the iceberg in that, from Microsoft and from other companies, we’re going to see just a complete explosion.”

Eventually the concept of operating a computer is “going to disappear,” he continued, replaced by a manipulation through voice and gesture. Then, of course, there are wearables, with Google Glass taking up much of the spotlight.

“Wearables are going to be big,” said Lee, “so, the amount of computing power that we’ll be able to put in small packages is going to be tremendous over the next five to eight years. And that is going to do all sorts of good things.”

Asked specifically when Microsoft might introduce its own wearable tech, Lee was careful, saying, “All I can say is, it’s a big deal for us. … I think the next several months will be very exciting.”

During the TechFair in Washington, the company brought along its “GeoFlow” project, which is in beta for Excel 2013 and allows users to leverage data entered into Excel to create interactive maps.

Other tools included SketchInsight, which lets users use sketch gestures — translating a drawn L-shape to create an X-Y axis graph or a circle to create a pie chart, for example — to generate animated presentations.

The company also brought along ViralSearch, which leverages the Twitter API to definitively quantify the phrase “going viral.” The tool lets users visualize how a piece of information has been shared from user to user across Twitter in a family-tree style format.

Another technology still in development is a method called “Actuated 3-D Display with Haptic Feedback.” The technology features a touchscreen fitted with sensors and 3-D imaging technology. It allows users to apply varying degrees of pressure in order to manipulate virtual objects as if they held real-life properties.

In the demonstration, users, while wearing 3D glasses, could push a stone, wooden or sponge block on the screen using more or less strength depending on the density of the object — so, more pressure to move the stone block, and significantly less to move the sponge block. The company sees the technology as having potential applications in manipulating health-care data, such as brain scans, and in physical rehabilitation.

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Emi Kolawole · May 22, 2013