Microsoft's augmented reality check

At TechFest, Microsoft's annual research event, the company demoed (here is a video) its "Core Tools for Augmented Reality (AR)," software that superimposes data and graphics onto a display with real time footage, essentially linking the information world and the physical world.At the show, the researchers demonstrated the software with a treasure hunt that let attendees search for a hidden prize (a virtual pot of gold) by following a trail of clues with a webcam.

At TechFest, Microsoft's annual research event, the company demoed (here is a video) its "Core Tools for Augmented Reality (AR)," software that superimposes data and graphics onto a display with real time footage, essentially linking the information world and the physical world.

At the show, the researchers demonstrated the software with a treasure hunt that let attendees search for a hidden prize (a virtual pot of gold) by following a trail of clues with a webcam. The researchers said that the technology can be used for more practical uses, such as allowing engineers to use AR in smart phones to help "see" the pipes or electrical cables below a street, Technology Review notes.

Unlike most augmented-reality systems, which orient themselves using GPS or WiFi triangulation, Microsoft's system is using computer vision, which is possible since the demo was carried out in the controlled environment of the conference hall. According to an article, the research team created a complex algorithm that recognizes the elements of a scene regardless of angle or lighting by performing the task frame by frame, for a video feed in real time. The algorithm matched each scene to a previous image stored in a database using specified parameters. Then the researchers used machine learning to quickly test different parameters and determine the ones that will provide the best matches.

Microsoft doesn't plan to have specific AR products on the market anytime soon, but elements of the research project will find their way in some of the software company's applications.

Augmented reality takes user-information interaction to a whole new dimension and progress has been accelerating in recent years due to faster mobile devices and more powerful sensors. Most of the recent high-profile developments in this space are mobile-based, and include Wikitude, an Android-based application that lets you augment your outdoor physical experience, and Sekai Camera, an iPhone application that shows a graphic overlay that is taggable. Here's a forward-thinking vision of where AR may look on the distant horizon.