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Microsoft GUI Robotics Software Technology

Look What's Cooking At Microsoft Labs 125

stinkymountain writes "Writer John Brandon spent two days at Microsoft Research Labs in Redmond and got an inside look at some pretty interesting projects under development, including a robotic receptionist, a new type of touch screen for people with fat fingers, and an electronic table that allows multiple people to collaborate in real time. Brandon also talks about some of these research projects on this NPR podcast."
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Look What's Cooking At Microsoft Labs

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  • Eagle 1 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GMonkeyLouie ( 1372035 ) <gmonkeylouie AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:22PM (#25960773)

    Eagle 1 looks quite awesome, think how great that would be for disaster control if you could see a real-time map of where the flood waters are rising fastest, where the fires are spreading from, or whatever the current disaster of the day might be. Making it interactive/collaborative sounds great, so you could draw little plans of attack and have them distributed to everyone in your organization.

    I've never been a real Microsoft groupie but this sounds very civic-minded, innovative, and useful.

    In other news, I would love to have a similar product for city-wide games of paintball or capture the flag.

    • Re:Eagle 1 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:24PM (#25961903)
      This invention [] has already been invented and is marketed to the government, military and other clients. Perceptive Pixel also developed the interactive map John King would use to show election results; didn't you see the Daily Show []? :)
      • Or TouchTable [] which is in use by gov't and numerous others...pretty cool stuff (played with it a few times myself). So nothing new, except may be networking two or more of them together, but I think they already did that.
    • by El Lobo ( 994537 )
      Isn't interesting that every time there are news about some MS project, some people have the need to almost apologize for liking some of their products/ideas? DON'T DO THAT. Be proud. MS are like any other company out there: with some great ideas/ products mixed with some not so great ones. Sure, this is slashdot and it's not hip and cool to say that you are:

      - A windows user and satisfied with it

      - A .net developer who think .net is a great platform

      - An user who thinks that the ribbon are is a great innov

    • One of the main reasons for many of the deaths in the twin towers after the first planes hit was because of lack of communication between fire, police and ambulance.

      The technology was available at the time and offered to them many times. They refused and continue to refuse to buy system that allow the 3 of them to talk.

      In Canada our fire and ambulance services were forced to use an integrated communication system and it is saving many lives that in the past wouldn't have been saved since it allows the c
    • by remmelt ( 837671 )

      Yes yes, but why did they put a zombie in charge of something that would be perfect for containing and managing a zombie outbreak? Seems counterproductive.

      (See pic in TFA before moderating this post)

  • I like the one of Big Ben, the others seems uses of a big touch screen or/and boring.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by philspear ( 1142299 )

      Yeah, more than half were touch screen stuff of various flavors. I guess everyone at MS bought an iphone touch and is totally in love with it.

      Sidenote, the best codename was the project to develop a robotic receptionist, "Codename: Robotic Receptionist." I really wish more codenames were more accurate like that.

      Operation: invade Iraq and replace Saddam's government with a puppet government in 2 weeks. That is less pompus than "Operation: Enduring freedom" or whatever was.

  • History (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rodrigoandrade ( 713371 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:25PM (#25960855)
    MS Labs have a long history of hit-or-miss projects. Some are great, most are not and get killed off sometime during product development. Let's hope some of them get to see a release date!!
    • Re:History (Score:5, Funny)

      by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:41PM (#25961129)
      And then even the great ones are subjected to MS Marketing, which means they'll die a slow and agonizing death while their retarded younger brother gets pushed into the spotlight.
    • Re:History (Score:4, Interesting)

      by yttrstein ( 891553 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:13PM (#25961675) Homepage
      I was involved with the development and testing of "blackbird" a million years ago by microsoft, which would have owned them pretty much the entire internet in the late 90's had they decided to go through with it.

      But they didn't. Biggest reason? They didn't like that everyone that wanted to develop for it used Macs. There was an enormous Ballmer shaped problem with porting the SDK to Mac OS. So instead of just not doing that and releasing it anyhow, they canned the entire idea, amputating half the department that came up with it.

      And that's microsoft.
      • Well, I've worked for a few North American companies and I think this is the norm rather than specific to MS.

        A P or VP decides upon something and then goes out'a his way to prove he made the right decision making sure everyone below him knows it is his way or the highway.

        And not until the entire company tanks you get to know which decisions seems to have been wrong that made the company tank, while he is laughing all the way to the bank. Well, he only got $20mill instead of $100mill, but who's counting?!


      • by beaviz ( 314065 ) *

        Okay, you got our attention. Now tell us what this "blackbird" thing was?

        • A quick web search found this: []

          Probably little chance of success, since it would not be interoperable with established tools (primitive though they weree) and more importantly, wouldn't be "hackable" by random geniuses who created all the web applications that succeeded as well as failed. With all useful applications in the HTMP/CGI domain, a proprietary project wouldn't have had a chance.

          Except for Microsoft's tradition of making a large number of pale im

      • It bothers me that you worked on an embrace and extend project, designed to kill the open Internet as we know it, and you're angry at Microsoft for not shipping it. Whatever the reasons for killing it (though they're probably the acceptance that HTML had become a standard), humanity has advanced for Blackbird not splitting apart the web, possibly reducing our access to information.

    • Re:History (Score:5, Informative)

      by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:19PM (#25961799)

      So Multitouch screen software, ditto, ditto, ditto, VS upgrade, Novelty receptionist blah blah blah

      Where is the innovation? All these are projects that are minor variants of things we have seen before? and other companies are doing already .... ?

      • Bingo!! If this is all they've got then they are up the creek. Even the Eagle thing is a big yawn as I am sure I've seen something somewhat similar in a GIS or remote-sensing magazine. (Ooh, ooh, but they merge data! Big wow!!)

      • by mcrbids ( 148650 )

        So Multitouch screen software, ditto, ditto, ditto, VS upgrade, Novelty receptionist blah blah blah

        Where is the innovation?

        I'm sorry. It seems you have confused "Microsoft Labs" with the "Microsoft Acquisition Legal Team and License Investigations Querying Unlicensed Operating system Review". (M.A.L.T. L.I.Q.U.O.R.)

        At Microsoft, innovation happens in the acquisitions department. Small wonder (ahem!) for a company whose name is roughly synonymic with a flat wee-wee...

    • On the bright side, unlike stuff coming out of Google Labs, many products actually do eventually come out of beta and have a release date,... ;-)
      • Ah but that is the kicker vista as released to the world would be a .8 or.9 release for Linux distro. Google is the same. It comes out of beta when it is feature complete and stable. While bugs may exist stability is already achieved.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So does Google. If everybody has to spend part of their time on their own projects and Google employs several thousand engineers then they must have thousands of failed experiments. For every successful Linux project there are a thousand stillborn on sourceforge.

      Really R&D always has more failures than successes, its just the nature of the game, but its those successes that give you your competitive advantage.

  • Single page edition (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:26PM (#25960871)
  • Summary -- (Score:5, Informative)

    by Taimat ( 944976 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:27PM (#25960893)
    Microsoft Surface for a coffee table; surface for a card table; surface for a wall; surface for a small tablet; oh, and something called "visual Studio" -- that one probably won't catch on.
    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      Screw Surface. I'll be interested in hooking up touch screen utilities in my house when they come with LCARS pre-installed.

  • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:28PM (#25960897)
    Does the electronic table come with an autoeject for the chairs around it?
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:28PM (#25960903)

    At the Cisco campus that I recently visited in SanJose, if you visit one of the less visited buildings (like one occupied by Engineers as opposed to the Briefing Center building), instead of a receptionist sitting at the desk, at the desk is a box the size of a microwave and a 40in HDTV on the wall. You push a button on the 'box' and it calls a centralized receptionist, who then appears on the TV (this might be the same tech as their Telepresence product). Anyhow, if you need a guest badge, she records your information and a guest badge is dispensed from the box on the desk.

    I'm assuming that the remote receptionist can do all the other tasks as well (calling someone down etc..)

  • uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:28PM (#25960907) Journal

    If they get a patent on using a touchscreen with fat, cheetos-covered fingers, linux is doomed!

    • by realkiwi ( 23584 )

      ...and do people with fat fingers really need a touchscreen?

      • Re:uh oh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ChrisStrickler ( 1157941 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:10PM (#25961617)
        I once worked where we had to wear environmental hazard suits, and we had a few keyboards that were meant for the fat-fingers of the gloved hands - so I could see at least one instance where this would be nice (assuming you needed to operate a touchscreen while in a hazard suit).

        I am sure there are others besides the self-checkout aisle of your local Wal-Mart.
    • If they get a patent on using a touchscreen with fat, cheetos-covered fingers, linux is doomed!

      It will be the year of Windows desktop!

      Ops, there's something wrong here.

      • Re:uh oh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @02:48PM (#25963309) Journal

        Not something wrong, but it makes you wonder...

        Why now do we see Microsoft trying harder than before?

        Slower sales? Pitching the company instead of a product? Trying to recover from the slump in stock sales? Trying to recover from years of a bad image before it hits them hard?

        Why does Microsoft view the brand as declining value?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 )

          Why now do we see Microsoft trying harder than before?

          Actually, they have been doing this sort of stuff since 1991. A lot of reseach goes on inside the walls of Microsoft, including stuff that would obviously never have any commercial prospects.

          Back in the 90s, I remember being amazed at the large number Microsoft employees delivering papers at computer science conferences. I find it interesting that Microsoft has always had a large presence at SIGGRAPH, and yet Microsoft Paint continues to suck.

    • So in the future Linux's children will use the Microsoft "Baron Harkonnen" Surface... interesting.

      • by Abreu ( 173023 )

        ...and they will walk in the tips of their toes, supported by anti-grav generators hidden in the folds of fat of their bellies, buttocks and thighs

        Supersize me 2, anyone?

    • I would sure hate to break it to my lovely receptionist that we just got her the new "fat finger" touch screen.

      "Here ya go, Merry Christmas"

  • gentlemen (Score:3, Funny)

    by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:30PM (#25960937) Homepage
    start your chair jokes.
    • by hack slash ( 1064002 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @02:13PM (#25962705)
      These two chairs walked into a bar ....

      *shrug* I got nothing.
    • Chairs? Why? Am I missing something?
    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      Only one I know offhand - oldie but a goodie:

      A philosophy professor walks in to give his class their final. Placing his chair on his desk the professor instructs the class, "Using every applicable thing you've learned in this course, prove to me that this chair DOES NOT EXIST."

      So, pencils are writing and erasers are erasing, students are preparing to embark on novels proving that this chair doesn't exist, except for one student. He spends thirty seconds writing his answer, then turns his final in to the ast

  • Change "advertising" in this [] to "research budget" and it's apropos. :P
  • by Andr T. ( 1006215 ) <andretaff@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:33PM (#25960971)

    The robotic receptionist - which will be used at Microsoft headquarters, likely next year - will help Microsoft visitors find shuttles to get around campus. The receptionist can even identify visitors based on what they are wearing and provide information on shuttle routes using GPS tracking data.

    Robotic voice:

    - You're wearing a ...yellow ... Linux ... T-shirt. You have a ... Hattori Hanzo ... sword. You must be here to... kill... Bill. Please take the next shuttle on your right.

  • by charleste ( 537078 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:34PM (#25960981)

    IMHO - and I'm no longer in an MS shop - is that OSLO and VS2010 both add up to HuYOOGE code bloat if prior MS tools are any indication. What MS needs to do, since they're obviously trying to automagic stuff more and more, is to sort out including their whole freaking library in the binaries by default.

  • So one of the proposals is an electronic robot receptionist...

    Robot: Welcome to Microsoft
    Visitor: I'd like to talk to a human.
    Robot: I'm sorry, you're request did not compute, please [BSOD replaces face render].

    • A man walks up to the reception desk at Microsoft.

      Man: "Hello, I have an appointment with Mr Ballmer"
      Receptionbot: "Dear Aunt, Kill Delete Select All... must kill, must kill, must kill..."
      • or...

        A man walks up to the reception desk at Microsoft.

        Man: "Hello, I have an appointment with Mr Ballmer"
        MissClippy: "Hi, It looks like you want meet with Mr Ballmer... I can help you with that..."
        • How DARE you post a comment here on /. that suggests Microsoft creates something that actually works! Don't you know that they're a large corporate entity and because of such they can't ever do anything good?
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:40PM (#25961109)

    I especially enjoyed the video of Dr. Bunson Honeydew's research. I felt a bit sorry for his research assistant, though - that poor guy gets all the scut jobs.

  • gaah! is it just me or did I mentally change "developing" into "smothering with patents"...?

    well I guess its fair that if they want to pay for developing nice toys then they should get some payback, though I really wonder how much you can patent on touch sensitive surfaces? I would imagine you could be limited to copyright on your interface, right / wrong?

    I was amused to see a touch sensitive interface in the new James Bond film. I was looking for a logo to see if they were advertising anybody on that
  • by Vexler ( 127353 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @12:47PM (#25961231) Journal

    It's called the "Jump-To-Conclusion Mat".

  • "...including a robotic receptionist, a new type of touch screen for people with fat fingers" Hey! I saw they used that on the Axiom in Wall-E .
  • While I was in college I once spent the summer installing computers at a small company. After a few installations I received a few calls from people having trouble with their mouse. I soon discovered that these people had one thing in common, red mousepads.

    Sure this new blue mouse will work on a variety of surfaces, but will it work on my blue mousepad?
  • Summary (Score:5, Funny)

    by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:23PM (#25961867)
    For those who are too lazy, the projects can be summarized in a few words: Big ass
    • Codename: Eagle 1
      Looks like something that we see in spy movies where a Command Center has access to all the topographical maps and information that it needs in an instant but for disaster recovery and planning. Looks promising. Like all collaborative efforts, success will depend on how well the individual components work well together (databases, etc). Big ass collaboration
    • Codename: Surface
      Kiosk technology. Not really intended for home users. At $12,500 each (with discounts), I see this more as a novelty more than practical. Big ass table
    • Code name: Pictionaire
      I'm not exactly sure what this is. It appears to be the software that Surface runs so I don't think it counts as a separate project. Software for big ass table.
    • Codename: Touch Wall
      An interactive semi-transparent monitor ala Minority Report. The main difference was the interaction in Minority report was with holograms and this is a hard surface. Big ass touchscreen wall monitor.
    • Codename: Paris/Social Streams
      News aggregator that is focused more on relationships and content than search terms. Might be useful for data mining. Big ass aggregator
    • Codename: LucidTouch
      Extends touch surfaces on mobile by allowing users to reach behind the screen so that your fat fingers don't block what you are trying to select. This however doesn't solve the compromise of portability of mobile devices with the need for larger screens. Touch surface for your big ass fingers.
    • Codename: OSLO
      Extends software development from sharing code to data models as well. Big ass application development modeling
    • Codename: Visual Studio 2010
      Well this uses OSLO and is the next version of Visual Studio so putting it into its own project is a bit of a stretch. Big ass IDE.
    • Codename: BlueTrack
      New MS mice will allow to be used on rougher surfaces like tile and wood than before by increasing the sampling rate of the laser among other advances . New laser mice with big ass oversampling
    • Codename: Robotic Receptionist
      I think this is software but a virtual receptionist that can interact with and track visitors. Big ass big brother.

    Did I miss any big asses?

    • Re:Summary (Score:4, Informative)

      by clintp ( 5169 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:35PM (#25962083)

      Read TFA. No, you didn't miss any of them. Thanks for the summary.

      While I'm generally a fan of Microsoft products (yes, boo hiss) these are all pretty lame. Four of them are touchscreens or variants thereof.

      Nothing to see here, move along.

    • The guy pictured on page 5 must not have been too fond of how you labeled him...
    • Code name: Pictionaire
      I'm not exactly sure what this is.

      This is a gaming environment with a stylus interface. The way it works is the user generates input by creating a Drawing®. The computer gets a set amount of time to correctly interpret the Drawing®. If it does so, it wins! If not, another process gets a turn.

    • by rwyoder ( 759998 )

      Codename: Robotic Receptionist
      I think this is software but a virtual receptionist that can interact with and track visitors. Big ass big brother.

      I think I've seen prior art: Max Headroom

    • Did I miss any big asses?

      No, Mixalot, I think you covered just about all of them.

    • I think you mean a big ass-table [].
    • Thanks, i closed the tab upon reading the phrase "pre-pre-alpha".
      alpha is developing code
      pre-alpha is proof of concept?
      pre-pre-alpha is an idea on a whiteboard?

      From your summary it seams there is nothing of interest.

  • I don't care about MS or what people have against whatever.

    Photosynth is amazing!!!

    I had some old photos taken of a climbing wall with my kids on different places at different times and from different angles. I uploaded all the photos and BAM!! It stitched them all together and gave us a realtime multi-perspective look at it. Whatever gripes you have about MS, give them credit when they are working on something that it really cool!!!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      unfortunately, i can't try it out, cause it doesn't support LINUX... go figure.

  • Anyone concider windex may be in cahoots with microsoft here? I looked at the first like 5 projects and atleast 3 of those were all touchscreen related. Must we make everything all touchscreen now? Please tell me I'm not the only one sick of seeing a touchscreen by now. I don't see the big deal about it besides creating blurry/greasy screens everywhere for people to view. Thats a great idea, lets setup a touchscreen table for socializing!! It can play games and bring up conversation topics, and we ca
  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @01:39PM (#25962159)

    including a robotic receptionist

    For proprietary, trade-secret reasons, MS needed to develop a workforce that doesn't need chairs. Microsoft spokeswoman C. DeFenestra refused comment.

  • All the data is shown in a real-time interactive map using Virtual Earth, but the key is how Eagle 1 pulls data from many different sources (such as from both Oracle and SAP databases)

    Nobody thought of MS-SQL I guess. Or maybe they did.
  • "The fingers you have used to dial are too fat. To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm now."
  • It would be interesting to see if any of these new projects will be implemented in a health care / hospital environment. A Lucidtouch x-ray display anyone?
  • I have an idea. Instead of trying to figure out 40 different (fairly ordinary) ways to use a touchscreen, try to focus a little of that brain power on your bread and butter. You can't afford another Vista.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham