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5 ways Microsoft will enable your PC to see, sense, and understand

Mark Hachman | April 23, 2014
Two years ago, Microsoft's Kinect for Windows literally opened the PC's eyes. And now Microsoft researchers are teaching it to see.

The idea, Large said, is to take a conventional 2D display and apply a series of plastic films above it, "tuned" to a particular range of light emitted by the LCD monitor. As demonstrated in the video below, the films project a second screen that "floats" in the air above the monitor. A second researcher, Yutaka Tokuda, also showed that it's possible to superimpose the second screen content above the main display, using Kinect to help fine-tune the illusion.

While both Large and Tokuda indicated that the idea was to bring digital creations to life via the second display, it's difficult to see what Microsoft hopes to accomplish here. While overlaying information on top of video has become commonplace on news reports, weather forecasts, and football games, cluttering a PC screen with too much extraneous information can be problematic. It appears that both are playing with the idea of focus, calling out specific elements for a closer look.

In March 2013, Microsoft concentrated on showing how Perceptive Pixel's massive touchscreen displays could be used to empower employees as gigantic video whiteboards. So far, the floating display appears to be little more than a headache waiting to happen.

ViiBoard: collaborative annotation

But if Microsoft's floating display seems like a stretch, the ViiBoard feels like an extension of today's workplace. The concept is extremely simple: By pairing a Kinect sensor with a Perceptive Pixel (PPI) display, users who approach the display as a whiteboard are recognized, and whatever they write is color-coded and stored.

The demo by Yinpeng Cheng, a senior research engineer for Microsoft (who refers to his project as Vtouch) shows an impressive amount of polish. As the user approaches the display, for example, it dims. Waving a hand upwards reveals a user menu, which follows the user as he or she moves to either side of the screen. And if a user shows 10 fingers in a "typing" gesture, a keyboard appears. Even "penstrokes" with either a finger or stylus can be color-coded depending on which hand the user is employing, and a squiggle can be quickly erased with just a gesture.

Cheng refers to VTouch as a way to make the whiteboard (or what he calls a "touch board") more valuable through collaboration. And that's been the axis that the small number of free, third-party office suites have begun heading down, in addition to duplicating the functionality of Microsoft Office. So far, that's been confined to document sharing and collaboration. But for businesses who often come together in conference rooms for meetings, or for collaborative discussions between participants in different locations, VTouch or the ViiBoard could point to future improvements in Skype or PPI-specific apps.


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