It is not often I find Microsoft products exciting, but there are exceptions to the rule. The latest one, which I saw on MS’ website, looks so much like a normal coffee table, has been MS’ biggest secrets.
If you’re any kind of nerd you probably already caught Microsoft’s Surface, formerly code named Milan at this point. As I said, it looks so much like a coffee table. Until it’s switched on.
According to Microsoft, Surface isn’t simply a regular PC with a touch interface—it’s a whole new category of computing device that will supplement rather than replace traditional machines.
What it is: A computer in the form of a table, using the hard acrylic tabletop as a high-resolution screen. First product from Microsoft’s previously secret Surface Computing team, which has 120 employees.
How it works: The surface itself isn’t touch-sensitive, but a series of cameras inside the table can see when someone places or drags a finger, hand or any other object on or across the tabletop screen. Internal projector lights screen from beneath.
Interface: People can use their hands to touch and move virtual objects on the screen, just as they would with a mouse on a traditional PC. The system also can recognize objects placed on the surface, based on their shape or on special codes affixed to them.
Size: 22 inches high, 21 inches deep, 42 inches wide, with 30-inch screen.
Technology: Uses a custom software interface on top of Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Comes with wired Ethernet, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless, hard drive and 1 GHz processor.
Initial customers: Harrah’s Entertainment, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, T-Mobile and IGT, the gaming technology company. Microsoft says consumer availability is still a few years away.
Competition: Microsoft isn’t alone in exploring this area. See a similar technology demonstrated by NYU researcher Jeff Han online at goto.seattlepi.com/r777.
Surface is priced at $10,000 (Rs.4 lakhs).
Limited numbers of Surface will hit stores end of 2007 – in T-Mobile Stores, Starwood hotels and even Harrah’s in Vegas.
Ars Technica takes a closer look at Microsoft’s new “Surface” tabletop device. Turns out that Surface isn’t actually a touchscreen at all, but uses five cameras located in the table’s base to record movement and touch. ‘The five cameras are near-infrared devices, but that’s not because they are trying to read heat signatures from fingertips (or other body parts) on the table. Instead, it’s because the entire surface of Surface is bathed in light; by illuminating the top of the table, the cameras can easily see when things are placed on it. Shining colored light across the surface of the table would spoil the effect that Microsoft wants, so near-infrared light is used for invisible illumination.’ The whole setup runs on a Core 2 Duo and off-the-shelf hardware, and can handle 52 simultaneous touches
Jfanning wrote with a link to an overview of similar technology used in the Helsinki ‘CityWall’. The article she provides discusses the unique public display, and has an in-depth video on the way these kinds of setups work.
(Additional Inputs: B Todd)