Image navigation, with a sci-fi touch

Microsoft has a way for people to navigate computer images using their hands to change their point of view. Video: Hands-on 3D

Taking a page out of a science-fiction novel, Microsoft's research labs have come up with a way for people to navigate computer images using their hands to change their point of view.

However, borrowing in equal measure from its business handbook, Microsoft is not going to develop the technology itself, but is instead licensing the technology, known as TouchLight, to a start-up.

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Video: Hands-on 3D
Microsoft's TouchLight technology lets you manipulate three-dimensional images.

Microsoft is licensing the idea to Eon Reality, an Irvine, Calif.-based company that will use it in its existing interactive products for commercial, auto, aerospace and defense industries. Eon's current products offer 3D displays, but don't let a person interact via touch.

With TouchLight people can use their hands to, among other things, tilt and pan an image, such a refrigerator or airplane. The technology is similar to one that has long been captured in fantasy novels and on the big screen, including "Minority Report," in which Tom Cruise's character is able to prevent crime by pulling up information on a glass screen using just a wave of his hands.

Unlike in that film, people using TouchLight don't have to use special gloves, glasses or headsets.

Eon said that it plans to use the technology as part of in-store displays during the next two years and hopes that in two to three years the technology will be affordable enough for use on desktop computers.

Microsoft's move to license TouchLight is the latest in a series of moves since the company announced in spring 2005 that it would start licensing its research technology to start-ups. This April, it licensed a social-networking technology code-named Wallop to a company by the same name.

Microsoft is not taking an equity stake in Eon and will get licensing payments only when Eon has sales from a product using TouchLight. Other financial details were not disclosed.

The company will demonstrate TouchLight at an event Wednesday at its Silicon Valley offices in Mountain View, Calif., as part of an event discussing intellectual property issues and the software industry.

CNET's Neha Tiwari contributed to this report.

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