ETech 2005 Trip Report: From the Labs: Microsoft Research

These are my notes on the From the Labs: Microsoft Research session by Richard F. Rashid, Ph.D.

Rick decided that in the spirit of ETech, he would focus on Microsoft Research projects that were unlikely to be productized in the conventional sense.

The first project he talked about was SenseCam. This could be considered by some to be the ultimate blogging tool. It records the user’s experiences during the day by taking pictures, recording audio and even monitoring the temperature. There are some fancy tricks it has to do involving usage of internal motion detectors to determine when it is appropriate to take a picture so it doesn’t end up blurry because the user was moving. There are currently 20 that have been built and clinical trials have begun to see if the SenseCam would be useful as aid to people with severe memory loss.

The second project he discussed was the surface computing project. The core idea around surface computing is turning everyday surfaces such as tabletops or walls into interactive input and/or display devices for computers. Projectors project displays on the surface and cameras detect when objects are placed on the surface which makes the display change accordingly. One video showed a bouncing ball projected on a table which recognized physical barriers such as the human hand when they were placed on the table. Physical objects placed on the table could also become digital objects. For example, placing a magazine on the table would make the computer copy it and when the magazine was removed a projected image of it would remain. This projected image of the magazine could then be interacted with such as by rotating and magnifying the image.

Finally he discussed how Microsoft Research was working with medical researchers looking for a cure for HIV infection. The primary problem with HIV is that it constantly mutates so the immune system and drugs cannot recognize all its forms to neutralize them in the body. This is similar to the spam problem where the rules for determining whether a piece of mail is junk mail keeps changing as spammers change their tactics. Anti-spam techniques have to use a number of pattern matching heuristics to figure out whether a piece of mail is spam or not. MSR is working with AIDS/HIV researchers to see whether such techniques couldn’t be used to attack HIV in the human body.

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