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Microsoft's 10 most interesting research projects

These tools could hitting a PC near you soon

Research and development plays a huge part in the tools and techniques we'll see in the future. We've taken a look at 10 Microsoft research projects to see how we'll benefit in years to come.

Codename: Paris/Social Streams

Some ideas are born out of necessity. The Paris project - the formal product name will be Political Streams when it becomes available - provides a big picture view of political news and blog chatter.

It's in essence a trend aggregator similar to Google Trends or Yahoo Buzz, except that it crawls the web for actual content, rather than just aggregating search terms. Alex Daley - the group product manager at Microsoft Live Labs - showed a demo where Sarah Palin news reports and blog posts appeared on a graph in comparison to reports on Barack Obama (before the US election, obviously).

"This is all in real-time, and we can effectively filter across various industries - we are starting with politics," Daley says.

"We can see the relationship between political reports. John McCain has had much more media interest than Barack Obama ever since the Sarah Palin announcement. We use a technique called entity extraction, a machine learning technique for classifying documents and text, such as this is a name, this is a place, or a recipe, or a review or product manual. We extract the core data and drawing relationships."

(Note: Live Labs is a seed farm at Microsoft, consisting of small five-to-eight person teams who develop innovative services and web sites such as PhotoSynth. The small team size is intentional because Live Labs is intended to germinate ideas, some of which may not become actual products. In fact, the PhotoSynth project itself - which is a way to see 360-degree views of a real-world location - was not a raging success at first because Live Labs found that people would take the same photos of buildings and sites. Today, it has become more of a social-networking site - people decide together to 'stitch' a scene more intentionally.)

Codename: LucidTouch

Ask anyone with big hands whether they like the Apple iPhone and you will likely get a resounding "No" in response. The reason? The 2x3in screen requires fairly small fingers to control the interface. If your fingers are too big, you'll likely make frequent errors.

The Microsoft LucidTouch V2 technology seeks to solve this problem. It's one of those early research projects that seems like a head-scratcher at first: a device with a small 2x2 screen that's about the size of a thick credit card that allows you to reach behind the screen to make selections. A representation of your fingers shows up on screen. Your fingers can be shown smaller, or with a red dot that shows your fingertips.

"A touchscreen device is governed by the size of your fingers," says Baudisch, who studied human interfaces in Germany before coming to Microsoft.

"We're asking: what happens in a few years when a touchscreen is embedded into a watch? It turns out that touchscreens don't do well at these sizes. Since it's difficult to make your fingers transparent, why not make the device transparent?"

The project reminded me of several products Nokia tried a few years ago in which a very small interface was embedded into a locket or other jewelry, but they were still difficult to use. LucidTouch could be used to power very small gaming devices or mobile phones.

NEXT PAGE: OSLO and Visual Studio 2010

  1. Eagle 1
  2. Surface
  3. Pictionaire
  4. Touch Wall
  5. Paris/Social Streams and LucidTouch
  6. OSLO and Visual Studio 2010
  7. Robotic Receptionist

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