Three years ago at Microsoft India’s satellite Tech Ed conference at Hyderabad, there was a robot on the floor. Named Sam, the robot wasn’t a company product but a side project by Ramaprasanna Chellamuthu. Conveniently known as Rama, Sam was just one of his proof of concept demos done using .Net and Microsoft’s Robotics tools. The robot talks to you, knows you and even sings! The project demonstrates the power of Microsoft Robotics Studio and Microsoft's Visual Programming Language. The video:
In April 2010, Rama unveiled what any single guy living alone would like to have. Who doesn’t want an automated home that wakes you up, cooks your food, knows what you are eating, cleans the house, lets you have video team meetings, interacts with magazines you’re reading and displays information from the web? Unlike most guys, Rama decided to actually develop this. He calls it buddyHome and in an era Before-Kinect, achieving something like this was far more challenging. A demo Rama created featuring himself and how buddyHome helps him in his everyday life shows that an artificially intelligent environment is not for expensive research labs and Hollywood studios but can be developed using Microsoft’s Visual Studio. Here’s buddyHome:
Towards the end of buddyHome, Rama introduced us to another project called Unmute. Again, in a Before-Kinect era, implementing Unmute was a challenge. The demo shown by Rama has him using signs that the system converts into words and sentences. The purpose of Unmute is to be a voice for those with speech disabilities. Rama says that in a After-Kinect world, Unmute has more potential and is easier to develop. No timeline on the project so far but he and Srithar are working on bringing Unmute to the masses soon. While Kinect is being seen as a gaming accessory at large, innovators see the device’s potential in healthcare and like project Unmute, enabling more people to connect.
Microsoft as a company continues to have Windows—the desktop OS—at the heart of its consumer strategy. Many pundits continue to mock the company’s plan. In the company’s holiday 2011 advertising campaign, Windows 7 is being placed at the center of a user’s digital needs. And Rama shows you that the desktop OS can do a lot on tablets too. His project called Winfotain (Windows+Information+Entertainment) is a Windows 7 tablet that he can work on at his office, use to bake a cake in his kitchen and assist him in driving his car. The proof of concept project shows a driver doze-off recognition mode that sounds an alarm when the system realizes the driver’s eyes are shut. The demo video for Winfotain created by Rama:
Microsoft’s tablet strategy is Windows 8. A touch friendly interface and radical performance improvements that can run legacy applications as well as jazzy HTML5 apps. The proof of concept shown by Rama gives a glimpse of what is possible in a Windows world if the Microsoft partner ecosystem truly invests resources. Rama’s excitement of the After-Kinect era is evident by his new Kinect projects. News for Yonkers is essentially avatars reciting news and his latest un-named project is him dancing with skeletons and pandas! Here’s a video:
Rama has over the past few years used his employer’s products to singlehandedly show what is possible with all that Microsoft has to offer. He doesn’t plan to move to Redmond, he likes the student and tech communities in India. As someone who loves to be a part of the student community, Rama has taken some Microsoft Student Partners under his wings to work with him on his projects. An excellent hands-on learning experience for these young developers to showcase their abilities and make actual products than cram boring books. Rama’s two apprentices Abhay Parkeh and Srithar R worked with him on News for Younkers and Project Unmute respectively. Abhay in an email to me recollects an all-nigher he spent with Rama at the Microsoft office working on their project, he says neither him nor Rama were sleepy. According to Rama anyone with knowledge of C# can develop similar projects, he plans to work on some Windows Phone 7 projects integrating Windows and Kinect in the near future.