Monthly Archives: October 2011

Augmented Projector mashes projectors, motion sensors and Kinect into an virtual reality “torch”

Projection-based input seems to be all the buzz of Microsoft Research this year as a number of such projects were shown off not too long ago at the 20th anniversary of the research group. Although KinectFusion, OmniTouch and HoloDesk got the most press coverage, another research project does a really good job at bringing all the different technologies together.

If I may use a cartoon analogy, “Augmented Projector” is like the Captain Planet equivalent of projection-based human-computer interaction. In essence it seems to combine the results of other experimental projects – Kinect-based environment modelling, projection-based gesture interaction and spatial-aware projections into one super project.

At the center of this project is a handheld projector which provides a small window for the user into a digitally augmented environment around them. Used like a torch, users can see and interact with virtual objects in 3D space. In one example, a user was able to kick and move blocks around them which bounced around the environment realistically. In another, a user could write in the air and see the virtual text cast realistic shadows onto the wall.

Even though the prototype is quite primitive I can see a lot of potential of this technology in medical and entertainment scenarios where the physical immersion of the environment is important. I anticipate with better projection technology and perhaps fixed projectors, the virtual augmentation can be much more immersive. Demo embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

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Microsoft grants Australians the powers of Kinect voice and Zune music

Australians will very soon have a voice on Kinect and music in their ears. At a press event in Sydney today, Microsoft Australia made two announcements regarding the Xbox and Zune services that will be enhancing the service later this year. The first, Kinect voice capability is going to be available from mid-December and Zune Music Pass will be available from November 16.

First and foremost, Kinect’s voice menuing capability, which was not available at launch to users signed in to Xbox Live with an Australian account, will finally be enabled mid-December. It’s possible this date might also be when the tile-based Xbox Dashboard will roll out globally. Microsoft explains the delay of this feature was due to localization for the regional accents.

The more important announcement is the long-overdue availability of Zune Music service in the land down under. Although this is definitely good news, there are still some gotchas.

The Zune Music Pass in Australia will cost $11.99 per month, giving users unlimited listening capability on their Zune software, Xbox and Windows Phone devices to a library of about 11 million songs at launch. Unfortunately, unlike (early adopter) Zune Pass subscribers in the US, Australian users will not be granted the promotional bonus to keep ten songs per month (since discontinued).

In addition, users who are shy to subscription services might be slightly dissapointed. According to Microsoft representatives, songs or albums will not be available individually priced. Apparently this is not something that will be available soon after launch either.

Update 2 (31/10): A Microsoft Australia representative has clarified after resolving the confusion with Microsoft US, there will be individual purchasing of songs and albums from the Zune marketplace at launch (Nov 16).

They however did not reveal pricing, but I anticipate it would be similar to when they were testing.

It’s nice to see the internationalization ship finally moving again and in the right direction but I guess one can’t ask for too much at a time.

Update: Microsoft Corp (US) has contacted me stating there will be individual song and album purchasing at launch of Zune Music in Australia. This contradicts what Microsoft Australia insists otherwise. I’m waiting to hear back after they duel it out.

Anonymous Microsoft employee claims Xbox Live auto-renewal policy to change for the better

Even though there’s no dispute Xbox Live is a great gaming service, cancelling a subscription for whatever the case may be up until even today has been a classic case of making customer service more difficult than it should be. In a Reddit thread griping about this exact issue, it sounds like Microsoft may finally change this in the near future.

Since the service was launched, gamers in at least United States and Australia could not simply cancel their automatic renewals online. The only method to do this was to call telephone support, wait to speak to a real person and push forward against attempts to convince you otherwise. Not that this was impossible, but not the easiest opt-out experience by far.

What is actually odd is that there are geographic exceptions to this rule. As examples, for users with an address in the US state of Illinois or United Kingdom, users can simply cancel their renewal with a click on a link on the website. The functionality obviously exists.

According to Reddit comment anonymously posted by an alleged Xbox Live engineer,

I’m a developer that works on Xbox Live. You are correct to be upset, this is purely an account retention feature. They figured people would either forget about their accounts and continue to pay, or that they could be swayed with discounts if they called to ask for it to be cancelled. Rest assured there are plenty of people at MS that agree that this attitude is bullshit.

The good news is that this is going to change. I don’t know when (hopefully by next year, it would be blocked by our release cycles) but whoever made this decision go their head out of their ass and realized it’s a PR nightmare that made things worse.

Hooray. Hopefully in the same update they can also enable the changing of account regions to more countries.

Furthermore the commenter reveals an interesting tidbit about just how support some fixes account issues on production servers, with SQL queries believe it or not.

If you guys ever have issues with XBL, you should call support or let someone know on the forums. Live site issues are taken very seriously. We have full time developers, based here in the US (not outsourced!) that will fix live production issues for individual users. I literally mean someone will run an SQL script in production to resolve issues with an individual’s accounts, but they can ONLY do this if you tell us about it.

Homebrew screenshot tool for Windows Phone 7.5 (works for all phones)

Homebrew screenshot tool for Windows Phone 7.5

As first reported by WPCentral, An interesting homebrew app came out of the Chinese Windows Phone community recently that enables pro users to finally take screenshots in most areas of the OS.

Although Microsoft has their reasons to not provide a native method to take screenshots, the feature on iPhones has led to almost a monopoly of mobile auto correct-based memes. This homebrew tool now levels the playing field for Windows Phone 7.5 users too.

Contrary to the initial report that this requires an interop-unlocked phone, that is not the case. This tool is claimed to work on all phones according to the author and all it requires is a developer unlock. If you don’t have one, you shouldn’t have to wait too much longer for the $9 unlock through ChevronWP7 labs.

Unfortunately the developer included an interop flag by accident which prevents it from being universally deployable. I’ve fixed this by editing the manifest in the XAP and repackaging it. Download my edited XAP here. Go on, share all the Metro goodness.

Update: This tool works by Mango’s new scheduled task API. You set the number of seconds (approximate) to wait until it takes as screenshot. Click the button at the button to set and exit the application using the Start button. When the app takes a screenshot a notification will display and the image will be saved in “Saved images” library.

Update 2: The author has posted a new version 3.0 of the tool with even more features, fixing the interop services.

The mad science behind Microsoft Research’s KinectFusion surface mapping

It’s always entertaining and informative to watch Microsoft Research turn science fiction into science fact.

As no doubts most people have probably seen the infamous KinectFusion video demo by now whereby objects can be surface-mapped in real-time using a handheld Kinect sensor. Now, the rocket science behind exactly what voodoo magic (algorithms) the software performed is detailed has been published.

The research paper “KinectFusion: Real-Time Dense Surface Mapping and Tracking” co-authored by no less than 10 researchers across Microsoft Research and three universities goes into the detail of their “system for accurate real-time mapping of complex and arbitrary indoor scenes in variable lighting conditions, using only a moving low-cost depth camera and commodity graphics hardware.”

Since there are mathematical equations in this paper that looks like straight out of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, I can’t claim to understand half the algorithms mentioned.

However I can comprehend, the unique advantage of their system appears to be the ability to grow the model and its details with time and movement in contrast to a single-frame capture. Of course to achieve this they had to overcome a number of difficulties including but not limited to motion drift, tracking and camera pose estimation.

It’s also noted the system is currently optimized for medium-sized rooms. To expand the system to much larger objects, like an interior of a whole building, will present a number of challenges in both memory and movement tracking but not without possible solutions.

Nevertheless like the authors themselves note, this technology presents interesting opportunities, specifically in the field of augmented reality where their real-time detailed and robust system surpasses any previous solution of equal cost and availability. The recently revealed HoloDesk concept is one such implementation.

Short: Microsoft Research “Touch Mouse Sensor SDK” available for download, again

Thanks to a heads up from a commenter, after a three month hiatus in the Bahamas, the Microsoft Touch Mouse Sensor SDK has once again resurfaced on the Microsoft Research download site in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors. Better grab it before it makes another run for it.

If any developers come up with cool uses for the Touch Mouse, leave a comment for others to check it out. Personally I want to see pinch-to-zoom support in Photoshop. Any takers?