updated 08:05 pm EST, Tue March 6, 2007
TechFest 2007 opens doors
Microsoft today opened the doors to the TechFest 2007, an annual showcase of research projects held at the company corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The company claims that this year's event, hosted by Microsoft Research, showcases more than 100 computing innovations, including telescope technology for the desktop PC, integrating content from several sources into a single, shareable document, and using the Xbox as a teaching tool. The company's annual showcase of research projects, where "researchers and product teams form close and lasting ties to jointly advance the frontiers of computing for the industry and customers," included an audience of customers, industry and government leaders and independent software vendors.
"TechFest is one-stop shopping to see and experience the breadth of software innovations we're pursuing that will allow people to explore their interests more deeply and share the things they care about more easily," Microsoft Research Senior Vice President Rick Rashid told attendees.
Rashid moderated demonstrations of a number of key research projects, including World-Wide Telescope, which allows people to peer deep into the heavens on their PCs; Mix: Search-Based Authoring, a new way to build and share digital content at home and work; and Boku, an innovative way of using Xbox to teach kids how exciting and rewarding computer programming can be.
PC Becomes a Telescope
The company's "World-Wide Telescope" allows users to turn their PC into one of the most powerful ground-based telescopes in the world, according to Microsoft. In what may be a response to Google's digital satellite map technology, the company demonstrated its innovation that draws on tens of millions of digital images of stars, galaxies and quasars from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an ambitious astronomical project started several years ago to map out a large part of the universe. Until now, the images were difficult and time consuming to search.
"What we've done is give people the ability to become digital astronauts," Rashid said. "You can explore deep space from the comfort of your living room."
Microsoft researchers plan to add rich media narrative to the images to create what it says are "compelling learning experiences."
"These will be tantamount to guided tours of the universe," Rashid said. "People will have an immersive way to search, explore and discover the universe much like MSN Virtual Earth."
A Living Scrapbook
Microsoft also focused on integrated content from several different sources. In what can be called a "living scrapbook," Rashid showed demonstrated "Mix: Search-Based Authoring," new technology that pulls data from many sources -- different websites, the computer's hard drive and databases -- and integrates the data into one document that users can easily share with friends, family members or co-workers.
"Think of Mix as a kind of high-tech, living scrapbook," Rashid said. "You can create a page that has digital pictures of your family, e-mails you exchange with family members, and links to places you love to visit together. And you can send that page to any other member of your family -- all without having to build a Web page."
Mix also has important business applications, according to the presentation. Businesses often need to share the most up-to-date information among a work group and this research technology would allow them to build a document about a particular project; it could include search results related to the project, links to internal websites about the project, and even newsgroups that discuss the nature of the project. Workers can share the document, and members of the group can continue to add content to it, automatically updating the document for the entire group.
Xbox as Teaching Tool for Future Scientists
Over the past few years, Apple's iPod has become integral to teaching and electronic learning and Microsoft hopes that schools will also adopt its Xbox as a learning tool for kids. Boku, a virtual robot in a simulated world, debuted as a research project using Xbox technology to teach kids basic programming skills in a fun and entertaining way.
"There is an ongoing and deepening crisis in computer science," Rashid said. "Our goal is to stem the tide by showing young kids the magic of software programming."
Using Xbox, kids as young as four years of age can program a robot to interact with its world, travel around among various objects the kids create, and even eat an apple.
"It's very much like playing a game," Rashid said. "But it's a serious endeavor that we believe will begin to interest kids in programming and eventually make them more comfortable tackling the really big challenges in computer science."
Microsoft Research employs more than 700 people in five labs located in Redmond, Wash.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cambridge, England; Beijing, China; and Bangalore, India.