I've often heard it claimed that Microsoft's Research Labs is the only remaining substantial-sized industry R&D arm, subsequent to the demise of Bell Labs and the downsizing of folks like Xerox PARC. While I don't have any particular interest in confirming or refuting the claim, what I will say with confidence is that the multi-site, multi-geography organization founded in 1991 comes up with some pretty amazing inventions.
Check out, for example, this six-minute video combining a pico projector array-generated augmented reality display and Kinect-powered environment input, which so far today I've seen mentioned at TechCrunch and The Verge, and which Microsoft Research UK developed in conjunction with Lancaster and Newcastle Universities:
The TechCrunch summary is spot-on, so I'll just republish it with attribution versus attempting to craft my own:
Have you had your share of augmented reality this month?…Trust me, you’ll want to watch this video of Microsoft Research prototypes using pico projectors and Kinect cameras. The ability to quickly build and track a 3D model of the environment (as we and Bill Gates both found amazing) is combined with the ability to display synthetic information onto the real environment. The result? The digital simulation of the world is overlaid on the world, in real time, and it’s utterly insane.
The clincher is right there at the end. Virtual particles pouring off the desk and into a real drawer. The pico projector could be a little more wide-angle, but they’re getting there…Can you imagine playing a game where your body, hands, and fingers are all accurately tracked, and the line between digital and real items is blurred?
It’s one more step towards a holodeck, but right now it’s still just collaborative research between Microsoft Research and Lancaster and Newcastle Universities (created for the Pervasive conference at Newcastle). Like so many things at Microsoft Research and Labs, it would require millions in development to make into a product, but it’s too cool not to share.