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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 6, 2007 at 5:22 PM

Touring Microsoft’s TechFest

Here are a few of the demonstrations I saw today at TechFest, the annual “science fair” being held this week by Microsoft’s advanced research group.

The company gave press and bloggers an early peek at some of the exhibits before the full show opens up to employees Wednesday and Thursday. Microsoft also posted Webcasts of presentations and demos here.

Some of the projects are being shown for the first time at the event, and the researchers generally don’t know if their work will ever end up in an actual product. Some could even end up in products made by other companies, since Microsoft is now licensing the research group’s intellectual property.

Anyway, enough background, here’s a sample of the demos (the photos are all taken by Seattle Times staff photographer Dean Rutz):

DEAN RUTZ / SEATTLE TIMES

It looks like a timeclock from the movie “Brazil,” but one gizmo is actually a mobile phone calendaring accessory created by Microsoft researchers in Cambridge, England. Called Text2Paper, the device receives and prints short SMS messages sent from phones onto clear stickers. The labels can then be pasted onto an adjacent paper calendar, on the appropriate day.

The idea is that family members could send appointments, shopping lists and other info to this system, which would most likely be mounted in a kitchen. Each printout also has a bar code that can be read by camera phones, so you can take a picture of an appointment with your phone and have it automatically synced with the device’s calendar.

Yet another idea from Cambridge was the Epigraph, a device for displaying visual messages in a family setting. It displays messages sent from mobile devices, relaying information about family members’ whereabouts, for instance.

Don’t let the wood frame fool you. This device, called Postcard, is showing how digital photo frames could evolve. Instead of displaying images from a memory card, it receives and displays images sent from phones.

Another photo display device, Shoebox has a 20 gigabyte hard drive. You scroll through the collection by tapping or stroking a finger across the touch-sensitive panel on top.

Researcher Matthew MacLaurin grew up near Silicon Valley and wrote game programs on a Commodore Pet as a child, but he worries that programming is too difficult and intimidating for today’s children, including is two and a half year old daughter. That’s why he developed Boku, a game-building system that introduces children to programming concepts. The Xbox-based system lets kids build simple programs to direct a robot to do things like pick up colored apples. As they learn the concepts, they can build more advanced games and make the robots do things like shoot missiles.

Andy Wilson demonstrated surface computing technology, including tabletop computers that could let players remotely play chess, draw pictures or collaborate on documents remotely. He also demonstrated a new version with a car racing game that rendered objects and obstacles placed on the table as 3-D landscape elements on a separate display.

Comments | Topics: Microsoft

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