WASHINGTON – Making a circle with his hands and speaking the words “Crab Nebula,” Microsoft researcher Hrvoje Benko summoned the image of the interstellar dust cloud in front of him.
Benko was demonstrating how to use an omni-directional projector,one of 13 up-and-coming technologies on display at the Microsoft Research TechFair at the Newseum Wednesday. Hundreds of representatives from businesses and government agencies attended,viewing technologies with applications ranging from detecting robot-generated spamming attacks to text messaging vocally while driving.
Using pinching hand motions in front of the Microsoft-designed projector,Benko zoomed in and out on WorldWide Telescope images displayed on a 360-degree screen inside a light-proof dome.
Senior researcher Andy Wilson called the setup an “interactive planetarium,” which he hopes will be sold as affordable kits for grade-school students to build for class projects.
“Any kind of scenario where you have a 3-D dataset and it makes sense to bring a few people in to experience that dataset together,those are interesting scenarios for us,” he said.
While Benko navigated the universe,other researchers demonstrated technologies for more easily navigating the Internet.
One of the new tools,referred to as “social desktop,” would enable users to add URLs to files and folders,allowing anything on the users' desktop to be shared without the user having to post it on the Internet.
Another technology would improve recommendations for anything from restaurants to dentists. By examining a user's social network,the system would make recommendations based on the opinions of people the user trusts most.
Robert Lytle,manager for new channels and technologies for GlaxoSmithKline,said he found the recommendation systems demonstration particularly intriguing.
“I think there are a lot of potential applications in general,” Lytle said. “I don't know where they are for GSK right now,but I could see the Better Business Bureau just picking that up tomorrow.”
Lytle said a more relevant application to his pharmaceutical company was a technology called Private Integrated Queries,or PINQ. PINQ could allow users to retrieve information from sensitive files such as patient records without compromising privacy.
Reggie Henry,chief technology officer of the American Society of Association Executives,praised a technology called research desktop,which allows users to manage projects by creating tags that can be applied to documents,e-mails,Web pages,images and other files.
“I think what they're doing is challenging the way we think about doing normal everyday things,” Henry said. “It really gives you a new way of thinking about how to manage your day-to-day work,based on activities rather than based on tools.”
Henry noticed that Brice Abdurrahman,a 14-year old Washington student who was job-shadowing him for the day,headed straight for a demonstration called Kodu.
The software teaches children basic programming concepts by allowing them to design their own video games. When children develop and modify scoring systems,for example,they are really experimenting with variables,said Matthew MacLaurin,principal program manager of Microsoft's creative systems group.
“We're sort of deferring the issue of knowing the correct jargon for a college-level computer science class,” he said. “We're really just trying to get kids exposed to the concepts underlying computer science in the most natural way possible.”
MacLaurin said the software,which has been tested in schools around the world,will be released on Xbox next week.
After playing with the software for several minutes,Brice said he believed Kodu would accomplish its goal.
“I think a 5-year-old could use it,” he said. “It's very simple.”