Monthly Archives: March 2011

Microsoft’s Craig Mundie talks Kinect and demos Avatar Kinect in Melbourne

At a public lecture hosted by Melbourne University’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society this evening (which just received Microsoft funding), Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Craig Mundie gave one of the first public demonstrations of Avatar Kinect after its initial debut at CES 2011.

During his talk on the topic of natural user interfaces called “More Like Us: Computing Transformed”, Craig summarized natural user interfaces as computing without the learning curve. Of course it wouldn’t be a talk about NUIs without mentioning the commercial success that is Kinect.

To help illustrate an example of a more natural telepresence experience for more than two people, Craig demonstrated the upcoming Avatar Kinect service with a staff from the university with a walkthrough of some of the stages and seating set ups as well.

Since it wasn’t final code, a few visual gags (ex. unnatural mouth expressions) got a few laughs, but for the most part it works as advertised.

Looking to the future, Craig suggested one day avatars could be photorealistic but raises questions about whether we would actually want them.

For example, in bandwidth-limited environments like mobile which could one day also have depth sensors built in alongside the camera, charactures present significant advantages as it only requires highly efficient voice and animation data streams.

Finally, Craig anticipates huge uptake of the Kinect Research Development Kit to be released in the “coming months”. Compared to the “Kinect hacks”, Craig comments it abstracts many of the higher level functions into libraries including the array microphone to encourage people to explore the wide applications of the technology. A separate commercial-oriented professional development kit is also on schedule soon after.

Update: Found a video of Craig’s Avatar Kinect demo recorded by Paul Tagell.

Microsoft Germany and Stereolize presents 234″ of interactive touch-screen goodness

Size doesn’t matter, unless you’re at a trade show. To prove this point, earlier this month at the annual CeBIT Germany technology fair, Microsoft Germany and long-time partner Stereolize, who specializes in elaborate interactive presentations, had an interactive screen that would even make Minority Report jealous.

In what can only be described as an XXXXL-iPad, the “Microsoft Cinema” is not your average PowerPoint presentation display. The single-piece reflective screen at 234 inches, it is claimed to be the largest touch display in the world and appears to support hand gestures such as flicking, panning and tapping, at least for where a normal person can reach anyways.

Of course the screen is only half the presentation, the slides (if you can call it that) were equally impressive. With a subtle hint of Metro styling, the content animated and transitioned like a scripted screen visualization straight out of Iron Man 2. Check out the video below.

The Microsoft Surface, PowerPoint team and these guys should definitely swap notes.

Microsoft’s “Future of productivity” showcases 29 years of evolution in information technology

Don’t let the name of this video mislead you, this is not a concept video like the infamous “Productivity Vision 2019” by Office Labs. In fact, this video doesn’t actually show anything that’s not possible today. Nevertheless, it’s still a very inspiring demonstration of information technology in practice.

The video, shared by Jesse Anderson from Microsoft Canada, portrays the imaginary career of an imaginary employee (Jeff Hay) at our beloved imaginary company, Contoso. For the first minute and a half, the video explores Jeff’s 19 year history at the company and all the Microsoft productivity solutions he’s implemented.

Notable IT transitions include 3.5″ floppy disks to 1.4″, mailing room to email, CD-ROMs, document archives to digital repositories and USB thumb drives.

Several promotions, shaves and cliche whiteboard brainstorms later, the video then shifts focus to the company today where the sun is bright, windows are shiny, people interact in slow motion and technology works like an Utopian society.

As you would expect, many Microsoft products make their cameos including but not limited to Windows Phone 7, Office 2010, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync. In short, productivity is through the roof.

As for a bit of trivia, most of the footage for the modern company appears to be shot at Microsoft’s City Center Plaza building in Bellevue, currently the office for Bing and the Online Services division. Having been there, the view from the roof is pretty spectacular.

Bing Japan’s condolence image of the day

As someone who pays a lot of attention to the Bing websites’ image of the day, the picture for Bing Japan today grabbed my attention. Unusually there was no breathtaking photograph, instead, just a humble block of text on a plain background. It turns out to be a message of condolence for the recent disasters in Japan.

Thanks to a translation provided by reader David Warner, who emphasized it was written in a very formal writing style which is difficult to capture in English, it reads as follows.

Concerning the Tōhoku region Pacific Ocean offshore earthquake

May those killed by the earthquake that occurred on Friday the 11th of March rest in peace, and to all those who suffered and to their families, you have our heartfelt sympathy.

We pray for as quick a recovery as possible.

This company will do as much as it can to support the recovery effort.

Microsoft Co. Ltd., Japan

Although this sincere message is trivial in the context of all the relief support contributions from Microsoft, I think it’s still a very noble gesture.

Microsoft Research reveals guts of Kinect technology

[flv:msrkinect.f4v 670 380]

Like a good artistic visualization, you can never get bored of looking at how the Kinect works behind-the-scenes. Of course pretty colors and dancing skeletons is captivating, but the hard science behind just how the Kinect on XBOX 360 can recognize human poses in real-time from a single depth-image is equally fascinating.

To quench the Kinect thirst, Microsoft Research recently released an 8-page research publication to be presented at the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in June titled “Real-Time Human Pose Recognition in Parts from a Single Depth Image“. The paper reveals a lot of interesting facts, science and data behind the algorithms of Kinect.

Whilst acknowledging previous work in the field, one area the research team focused to improve was per-frame initialization. That is, the system can work without a lengthy “set-up” phase for the user.

The success of their work is of course a key component of Kinect – anyone can hop in to play at any time.

As part of its development, the team collected a database of around 500,000 frames of motion capture data of simulated poses with different people in an entertainment scenario such as driving, dancing, kicking, running and navigating menus.

From that, they generalized the dataset down to 100,000 more unique poses to which the system was trained to estimate body parts from. As an indication of just how computational intensive the development process really was, “training 3 (decision) trees to depth 20 from 1 million images takes about a day on a 1000 core cluster”.

For one I’m glad they spent days with 1000 core clusters so that Kinect can recognize me kicking and jumping at 200 frames per second.

Dear internets: this is NOT the Microsoft logo

You know what really grinds my gears, people who screw up the Microsoft logo. No I don’t work for Microsoft’s legal department, in fact I despise lawyers, but it’s beyond comprehension how some people think the Microsoft logo is the one on the right.

Not surprisingly it’s not even the proper Windows flag. The sequence of colors is right, but the shape and bevel is all wrong. One is for a product, another is for a company. It’s not that confusing.

Like me, you’ve probably seen it lingering around the net. I’m not sure where it began but the first time I saw it must have been at least 2 years ago and has been plaguing the web since. As an indication of its popularity, it’s one of the top image results on both Google and Bing for “Microsoft logo”.

What’s worrying is that this doesn’t seem to be just a novice mistake. The list of notable offenders include but is not limited to prestigious publications to the like of the Wall Street Journal, to generic technology news sites, and even companies started by former Microsoft employees.

As I know there are many others out there I’ve previously witnessed with my own eyes, please leave a comment if you ever come across one. It must be stopped.