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Pick A Surface, Any Surface

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With dozens of shiny new gadgets launched practically every week, it's easy to forget that they only get to us because of the immense research that goes into making these devices and each feature they sport. Some of the research comes out of the lab and into products — and some doesn't. But all of it advances the knowledge of technology.

Microsoft has a whole 20 years of research in computer science and related fields. It's something Bill Gates wanted early on; even if we associate the company primarily with the software we use every day rather than cutting edge innovation. Microsoft Research is spread all over the world, including in India, and has people working on at least sixty topics and concepts, some of which are being shown off to the public at large.

One of Microsoft's research projects has come up with a way to convert any surface — table, wall, hand, paper — into an interactive interface. It's based on Kinect, one of the cleverest things to come out of Microsoft, and a wearable projector. For now, the projector sits on your shoulder not exactly making a fashion statement and looking like some sort of firefighting equipment, but when the designers are let loose at it, the contraption should become smaller and actually wearable. When that happens — and one hopes it does — imagine the possibilities. You could unthinkingly use anything to work and play on, and you'd even be able to use tablet-like gestures. You may recollect, Pranav Mistry also showing a similar technology from research done at the MIT lab. 

Speaking of tablets, we don't consciously notice it but there's a big 100 millisecond lag between drawing something on the tablet's screen and the result actually appearing. Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group has come up with technology to reduce this lag way down to 1 millisecond. Unfortunately, we can't see how it works for real on a tablet, but at least we can see that the possibility is real enough. The improvement, if it were to come to tablets and other devices eventually, will make a step-change of a difference to how it feels to work on a touch surface.

Another Kinect-based project uses an augmented reality mirror and the Kinect sensor to make up a "Holoflector" which allows a person to actually interact with real time graphics which appear to be floating around in remarkable ways. In a sense, graphics, which are virtual, come into the real world. Bring a Windows Phone into the equation and for interesting implications.

It's worth going through the Microsoft Research YouTube channel for a look at the most recent exciting and often jaw dropping innovations.

Now if only some of this would come out of that lab before the world ends.

Mala Bhargava is a personal technology writer and media professional
Contact her at mala at pobox dot com and @malabhargava on Twitter