Microsoft's brave new future (photos)

Holographic phone calls and 3D augmented-reality desktops. At its annual TechForum showcase, Microsoft Research shows off hardware concepts likely to get you very pumped for the future.

Christopher MacManus
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History of the world

Microsoft TechForum, an annual event hosted at company headquarters in Redmond, Wash., offers a showcase for its latest concepts. Several of the prototype products displayed this week have been under development for years and signal a bold direction for Microsoft--and potentially for consumers.
Here, a Microsoft rep shows off ChronoZoom, an open-source community project that visualizes the history of, well, everything. Users can explore events "between scales of one year to billions of years, putting historical episodes in context, comparing vast amounts of time-related data across different fields," according to Microsoft Research. The company is working with the Big History Project to flesh out the data, which includes biology, astronomy, geology, climatology, prehistory, archaeology, anthropology, economics, cosmology, natural history, and population and environmental studies
Keep an eye on this site for the open-source release later this year, or check out this keen ChronoZoom demo video.
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True 3D desktop

This Microsoft Research project represents a wild spin on 3D computing based on a "transparent OLED display with view-dependent and depth-corrected gaze" that gives users the ability "to manipulate virtual objects onscreen."
The 3D overlay is a world for your hands, allowing you to access content in a pinch (literally). We're getting some serious "Johnny Mnenonic," "Tron," and "Minority Report" vibes here. Read more about this 3D augmented-reality desktop, and watch a video of it in action, here.
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'Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi'

Meet Holoflector, an augmented-reality mirror that uses a combination of Kinect and Windows Phone to "infer the position of your phone and render graphics that seem to hover above it," according to Microsoft.
With this setup, you could conduct a video call with someone and hold the projected image of that person in the palm of your hand. Skeletal tracking data captured by Kinect makes it possible to track your appendages and movements. Watch this shiny Holoflector hands-on video, which shows off a "holographic video call."
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Easier ticket buying

Bing offers a neat setup for an event ticket buyer that compares prices from several major providers in a single interface.
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Practical way to share objects

IllumiShare is a camera-equipped projector that illuminates a surface that you can then share with someone thousands of miles away. Learn more about this cutting-edge virtual shared whiteboard here.
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Search your life

Lifebrowser essentially describes itself. It's a portfolio of your "information, appointments, photos, and activities," including "history with searching and browsing on the Web over days, months, and years." The software automatically builds easily navigable chapters of "memory landmarks" based on important events. Watch this in-depth video of Lifebrowser.
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'Minority Report' gets real

Microsoft Applied Sciences Director Steven Bathiche shows off a highly evolved personal computer that enables users to gesture with their hands or wave around specially designed physical objects (such as a wand with an imprinted bar code) to manipulate content onscreen. In one example, he lights digital paper on fire while waving a wand around in real life. This evolution of Microsoft Surface works on a 3D plane instead of a flat 2D surface.
The "seeing display" uses an infrared camera behind a transparent OLED screen to capture movement. You can also scan text from a piece of paper by simply holding it up against the see-through screen. Check out a video of the seeing display performing some serious magic.
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Digital eyes see you

This is a picture of the two flat optical lenses (wedge) behind a transparent OLED "seeing display." The cameras capture the user's actions and enable highly accurate touch and above-screen gesture control. It's also great for telepresence applications.
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C-3PO of machine translators

Microsoft Translator Hub differs from most commonly available translation Web sites out there. The Web-based software is "a self-service model for building a highly customized automatic translation service between any two languages."
While this might sound like science fiction, the translator culls data from "language communities, service providers, and corporations." This Wikipedia of words could one day save dying languages. A video by Microsoft Research shows off more features of Translator Hub.
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Sim City comes to life

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, explores a large prototype display that contains "multiple sources of data and information to (hypothetically) help him decide the best location to open a new retail shop." Is this software a commercial business planner's dream? We noticed a fascinating factoid on display as Mundie pinpoints a street intersection: "Migration patterns in July: This area will gain new residents due to new apartment buildings."

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