10 Microsoft research projects

A sneak peek at 10 technologies developed in Microsoft's R&D labs, ranging from laser mice to robotic receptionists

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Codename: Pictionaire

Senior researcher Andy Wilson's lab, located in Building 99 on the Redmond campus, is low-lit and spacious with several glowing monitors scattered about the room. There's an early prototype of Microsoft Surface in one corner, an LCD monitor set at a 30-degree angle in another. Near the back of the room, an orb sits idly on a podium, a precursor to the Microsoft Sphere project. Yet, the most striking device is a large glowing 4-by-6-foot table.

Pictionaire

"I can start typing on this keyboard," says Wilson, as he drops a keyboard into the table surface. Icons suddenly appear next to the keyboard like something from a sci-fi movie.

He drops another keyboard and a mouse onto the surface, and icons appear for those devices. Next, Wilson grabs a small whiteboard and starts making notations. A camera records his sketches, and the image appears on the table surface -- which he can further manipulate. Like the Microsoft Surface project, this new table -- which runs software called "Pictionaire" -- allows Wilson to type e-mails, play video and music. "I can even capture the entire table" as a screenshot.

What's most striking about Pictionaire is it allows unprecedented collaboration. In a meeting, an entire group of employees could gather around the table, each with their own keyboard and mouse, and engage in a project with images, text, video and other objects. While the Surface table allows up to 52 people to participate simultaneously, that's not a practical limit -- Wilson says Pictionaire could support at least that many concurrently. It uses a multitouch interface as well, so you can zoom in on objects and move them around. One can imagine several teams using Pictionaire surfaces at different locations as well, with video collaboration. The Pictionaire demo used Windows Vista, but it's not hard to imagine running Linux in a virtual window.

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