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Gallery: What's brewing inside Microsoft Research?

Microsoft Research recently opened the doors to its research and development facility in Cambridge and silicon.com went along to take a look at the technology being worked on - from augmented reality and Microsoft's Surface technology, to making disk drives more efficient.
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By Andy Smith on
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1 of 22 Andy Smith/ZDNet
Microsoft Research recently opened the doors to its research and development facility in Cambridge and silicon.com went along to take a look at the technology being worked on - from augmented reality and Microsoft's Surface technology, to making disk drives more efficient.

The picture above shows technology from the Core Tools for Augmented Reality project which is aimed at adding visual information to real-world surroundings.

The screen on the camera shows information about the building that it's facing such as its address and the businesses that are inside.

But ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins questions whether the money for Microsoft research is being well spent - and ZDNet's Larry Dignan provides analysis.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Also part of the augmented reality demonstration was a treasure hunt in which the computer screen places animation - in this case bubbles - over actual camera footage.

The user follows the direction of the bubbles' movements with the camera in order to locate a virtual treasure chest located nearby.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Although Microsoft's Surface touchscreen technology has been around for a while, researchers in Cambridge have added an extra dimension through a project called 'Second Light: bringing user interfaces into the real world'.

Here you can see a photo of the night sky on the surface of the screen while a piece of transparent plastic on top of the screen overlays the Orion constellation on the image below.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The tech works by using two projectors (as shown above) and a diffused surface. One image is captured on the screen surface as the diffused material stops the light travelling beyond that.

The light which makes up the image from the other projector passes through the diffused material and is then captured by items placed above the actual surface of the device.

This allows the standard Microsoft Surface functionality but adds more ways in which you can interact with the information above the actual screen.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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This shows an image of a car but with the internal structures visible when the transparent piece of plastic is placed over the image.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Another way in which the technology can be used is by providing extra information about an image. Here's a picture of a cow with the sheet of plastic above showing written information about the animal.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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In a similar way, the plan and side views of the sports car on the main screen, is shown on the card above.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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This is a photo of an area in Cambridge but with the actual street names projected onto the card that sits on top of the image.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The technology can also show moving images above the actual screen. Here a moving image of a running man is shown on the screen above.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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HomeBook is a touchscreen app aimed at helping people stay in touch with their work colleagues or family when away from the office or home.

Each person has a specific area represented by pictures on this screen. They can leave messages and upload pictures to their profile and people can then respond to them with messages written on photos using the touchscreen.

The idea is for the screen to be placed in a public area in an office so people can keep track and interact with each other whether they're in the office or out and about.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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This is the Whereabouts Clock that shows where different members of a family are at any given time.

The clock is divided into work, school and home zones and when a person moves out of a location into another their mobile phone will update their location via an automated SMS message sent to the device.

Users can also text information about what they are doing which appears next to their picture on the screen.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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On a similar theme the Kitchen Postcard shows different members of the family as different parts of a plant. The leaves contain messages or images that family members have posted remotely.

Using a touchscreen, users can access messages that have been pushed to the application via a mobile phone or email outside the home.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The Family Archive uses touchscreen technology to allow people to explore family photos and souvenirs.

At the bottom of the screen is a box labelled with a particular holiday. The user has "tipped" the box over using the touchscreen, spilling the photos onto the surface. They can then look through the photos and enlarge them to get a better look.

The idea is for people to be able to explore their pictures in a more interactive way rather than going through files on a PC.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The Family Archive also has a camera (top of picture) that can be used to bring images of souvenirs and other holiday memorabilia into the archive. Here a pair of clogs is being photographed.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The image of the clogs can then be seen on the screen and manipulated in much the same way as the photos.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Wayve is another messaging technology that has been developed by Microsoft Research and Cambridge-based product development company, The Technology Partnership.

The touchscreen devices allow users to write and send messages and photos to other users. You can also draw pictures, play games and take pictures. They have been trialled in 24 households in the UK.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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This screen shows the HomeWatcher project which shows broadband usage for different members of a household.

It shows when people are downloading and restricting other users as a result. It then allows the controller to throttle back available broadband for people who are taking bandwidth from other users.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The NodeXL project is about visualizing and contextualizing Excel spreadsheet data.

This image shows the links between senators in the US Congress. The connecting lines indicate how often votes are aligned. The cluster on the left is Republicans, while the one on the right is Democrats and independent senators.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The SenseCam project uses a wearable camera like the one shown to automatically take wide-angle pictures as a person goes about their daily business.

The project is designed to help stimulate memory for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other related illnesses. The technology is currently being trialled by clinicians around the world.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Everest is a project designed to use computer drives more efficiently. It works to take pressure off overloaded disk drives by transferring processor demand to other devices with spare capacity. It can also be used to transfer light loads onto a single disk to allow other disks to spin down and reduce energy use. Microsoft Research claims a 60 per cent reduction in energy used for idle periods.

The screen shows how load, latency and power use changes as the system kicks in.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Sticking with the energy-saving theme, the Somniloquy device (above) allows PCs to respond to requests when they're in their low-power state.

When a request is made to access data or applications on the machine from a remote location, the Somniloquy device powers up the computer for the information to be obtained. Once the task has been completed, the device powers the machine down again.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Microsoft Research also works with scientists to boost understanding around various natural processes. This shows a project to develop a visual programming language for simulating and analysing complex biological models.

The Antigen Presentation case study (shown here) is a collaboration between Cambridge and Southampton universities and is aimed at better understanding cancer and autoimmune disease.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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