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

March 1, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Microsoft TechFest: Natal details, 3-D and more

Microsoft’s annual TechFest science fair this week will be closed to all but employees but research boss Craig Mundie is giving a small preview today to a handful of reporters, outlining broad trends in software and computing the company expects to see in coming years.

Mundie is explaining how computing’s evolving from its graphical user interface to natural user interfaces such as speech, touch and voice.

“The two things will become a lot more complementary,” he explained after several showing several prototype systems as Microsoft’s home of the future demonstration facility.

Mundie said he’s also expecting 3-D systems to “bring together the phyisical and cyber world and intersect with them.”

This is happening not just in movies but in imaging, such as Bing systems that blend online photos of places to create 3-D models of places that can be explored with a mouse.

But the clearest leap is likely to be Microsoft’s Project Natal system for the Xbox 360, which was also demonstrated during the session using a near-final version of the hardware, set to go on sale this holiday season.

Xbox exec Don Mattrick declined to provide retail pricing but lots of details of the Natal technology were provided.

Photos were prohibited, but the hardware is a smoother, larger version of the developer version that was released last year. The current iteration is about 10 inches long, in white plastic with tapered ends like a 2 x 2 with miter cuts, on a white base with the same design as the current Xbox Live Vision camera accessory.

Microphones for sound recognition were on the underneath plane, and the plane facing players had three sensors. One is a light projector used to ensure the system performs despite lighting conditions in a room. Another is a color Webcam sensor and the third is a black and white CMOS sensor used to monitor depth in the room.

The system operates at 30 frames per second and uses its readings and motion analysis to calculate likely actions players are taking in real time, with an algorithm that uses less processing power than a cellphone.

Also shown were the latest features of the Microsoft home, including several demonstrations that added health management systems based on Microsoft’s HealthVault platform. A watch placed on a sensor plate displayed recent activity and goals, and a touchscreen computer in the kitchen called up a personal health console with news about the user’s condition, schedules and the ability to slide a timeline forward to predict future health based on current activity and medications.

Comments | Topics: Microsoft, project natal, TechFest

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