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Photos: Microsoft puts its latest tech experiments on show

Digital heirlooms, turbocharged Paint and Charles Darwin get the Microsoft treatment
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By Tim Ferguson, Contributor on
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Digital heirlooms, turbocharged Paint and Charles Darwin get the Microsoft treatment

Microsoft Research's Cambridge lab this week showcased some of the technologies that its team of UK researchers is currently working on. silicon.com went to Cambridge to speak to some of the researchers and take a look at the software behemoth's latest tech experiments in action.

One of the projects Microsoft is working on is Heirlooms, which explores how people will pass on their possessions and memories to loved ones now that much of people's lives are represented by digital items rather than physical ones.

Above is a Timecard - essentially a digital photo frame connected to a computer which shows a collection of digital photos and hard copies of snaps that have been digitised.

The device also lets users see the images as part of a timeline, showing how the various items relate to certain periods in a person's life.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Shown above is a timeline for an individual who fought in World War II, which includes a group of digitised items - such as photos and documents - detailing their wartime experiences.

When the person gets married, and subsequently when their children and grandchildren come onto the scene, there are further collections of pictures of them with their family and friends to commemorate these events.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Here, Microsoft is aiming to take an old piece of technology and combine it with a new one to allow people to share digital material in a more familiar way and without the need to sit in front of a computer.

Shown above is a photo viewer which works with what look like empty photo slides. When the slides are put into the view finder, a sensor reads the coloured labels on the slides and triggers the viewer to access the relevant image files on an attached storage device, then display them on the screen.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The final piece of tech developed as part of the Heirlooms project is this back-up box.

With social networking considered something of a modern form of diary keeping, the device logs all of an individual's tweets and status updates, and stores them for later viewing.

The screen shows the tweets of one of the Microsoft Research team which users can scroll back through using the touchscreen.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The SenseCam project, which started within Microsoft Research, has now been extended after Oxford-based digital camera maker Vicon licensed the technology.

The project is designed to improve the memory recall of people suffering from memory loss or dementia. A camera is worn around the neck and takes photos as the wearer goes about their daily business.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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At the end of the day, the wearer is able to play back who the events of the day and be reminded of who they met and what they did, as shown above.

The SenseCam is now being sold for use in trials for the treatment of memory-related conditions.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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With the Path of Go project, researchers are trying to make computers intelligent enough to master the skills needed to play the ancient Chinese game Go - a greater challenge than making one that plays chess.

The project has made extensive use of inference technology, which learns from data while also taking into account probability.

The image above shows a computer program playing Go against a grand master.

Microsoft Research in Cambridge developed the technology to make this feasible using a bespoke game engine, the F# functional programming language and the TrueSkill ranking technology used on Xbox Live games.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The image above is part of the Simulating Global Carbon Climate Feedback study aimed at predicting possible carbon dioxide concentrations in the future and their impact on the climate.

It can create forecasts based on a number of different scenarios, such as emissions continuing at current levels or countries taking a stronger stand to reduce them. The tools developed by Microsoft Research allow models to be constructed which take into account population growth, agricultural productivity and changes in land use.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Microsoft's researchers are also working on a project called the (En)tangled Word Bank.

It examines the development and changes made to Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species across its six editions, as his theory changed in response to further research and criticisms from the scientific and religious communities.

The project focuses on visualising the data in order to make it more useful. The graph above shows the different chapters and subchapters spreading like branches. The darker lines on the graph show elements that survived from the first edition, while the light green strands shows sections that have been altered.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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The Gathering Engine is an alternative web searching tool developed by the Socio-Digital Systems group.

The project is aimed at users are just surfing the internet to just to browse and pick up interesting information, rather than looking for a particular piece of data.

Shown above is a set of results for Mount St Helens which includes Twitter coverage, the science behind the 1980 volcanic eruption, a volcano camera and holidays to the area.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Microsoft's Extreme Computing Group in Redmond has developed Project Gustav, shown above, which combines the humble Microsoft Paint app with the power of a sophisticated graphics processor.

Using a touchscreen from HP and a digital drawing pad from Wacom, Project Gustav recreates the nuances found in real painting or drawing - for example, it can show the subtleties seen with oil paints, such as how a brush is held and moved, or provide the user with ability to smudge charcoal with their fingers using the touchscreen.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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Closer up, you can see the detail created by using the oil painting set up.

Microsoft Research has offered a glimpse of the work being carried out in its Cambridge lab before - check out the full story to see what was on show a year ago.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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