Thursday, September 4, 2008
Microsoft Surface (Codename: Milan), is a Multi-touch product from Microsoft which is developed as a software and hardware combination technology that allows a user, or multiple users, to manipulate digital content by the use of natural motions, hand gestures, or physical objects. It was announced on May 29, 2007 at D5 conference. Initial customers will be in the hospitality businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, retail, public entertainment venues and the military for tactical overviews. The preliminary launch was on April 17, 2008, when Surface became available for customer use in AT&T stores.
Surface is essentially a Windows Vista PC tucked inside a table, topped with a 30-inch reflective surface in a clear acrylic frame. A projector underneath the surface projects an image onto its underside, while five cameras in the machine's housing record reflections of infrared light from human fingertips. The camera can also recognize objects placed on the surface if those objects have specially-designed "tags" applied to them. Users can interact with the machine by touching or dragging their fingertips and objects such as paintbrushes across the screen, or by placing and moving tagged objects. Surface has been optimized to respond to 52 touches at a time. During a demonstration with a reporter, Mark Bolger, the Surface Computing group's marketing director, "dipped" his finger in an on-screen paint palette, then dragged it across the screen to draw a smiley face. Then he used all 10 fingers at once to give the face a full head of hair.
Using the specially-designed "tags" on objects, Microsoft Surface can automatically offer additional wine choices tailored to the dinner being eaten based on the type of wine set on the Surface.
Prices will reportedly be $5,000 to $10,000 per unit. However Microsoft said it expects prices to drop enough to make consumer versions feasible in 2010.
Partner companies plan to use the Surface in their hotels, restaurants, and retail stores. The Surface is to be used to choose meals at restaurants, plan vacations and spots to visit from the hotel room. Starwood Hotels plan to allow users to drop a credit card on the table to pay for music, books, and other amenities offered at the resort. In AT&T stores, use of the Surface include interactive presentations of plans, coverage, and phone features, in addition to dropping two different phones on the table and having the customer be able to view and compare prices, features, and plans.
Microsoft notes four main components being important in Surface's interface: direct interaction, multi-touch contact, a multi-user experience, and object recognition.
Direct interaction refers to the user's ability to simply reach out and touch the interface of an application in order to interact with it, without the need for a mouse or keyboard. Multi-touch contact refers to the ability to have multiple contact points with an interface, unlike with a mouse, where there is only one cursor. Multi-user is a benefit of multi-touch -- several people can orient themselves on different sides of the surface to interact with an application simultaneously. Object recognition refers to the device's ability to recognize the presence and orientation of tagged objects placed on top of it.
The technology allows non-digital objects to be used as input devices. In one example, a normal paint brush was used to create a digital painting in the software. This is made possible by the fact that, in using cameras for input, the system does not rely on restrictive properties required of conventional touchscreen or touchpad devices such as the capacitance, electrical resistance, or temperature of the tool used (see Touchscreen).
The computer's "vision" is created by a near-infrared, 850-nanometer-wavelength LED light source aimed at the surface. When an object touches the tabletop, the light is reflected to multiple infrared cameras with a net resolution of 1280 x 960, allowing it to sense, and react to items touching the tabletop.
Surface will ship with basic applications, including photos, music, virtual concierge, and games, that can be customized for the customers.
Surface is a 30-inch (76 cm) display in a table-like form factor, 22 inches (56 cm) high, 21 inches (53 cm) deep, and 42 inches (107 cm) wide.. The Surface tabletop is acrylic, and its interior frame is powder-coated steel. The software platform runs on a custom version of Windows Vista and has wired Ethernet 10/100, wireless 802.11 b/g, and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity. Surface applications are written using either Windows Presentation Foundation or Microsoft XNA technology.
At Microsoft's MSDN Conference, Bill Gates told developers of "Maximum" setup the Microsoft Surface was going to have:
- Intel Core Quad Xeon "WoodCrest" @ 2.66GHz
- 4GB DDR2-1066 RAM
- 1TB 7200RPM Hard Drive
It has a custom motherboard form factor about the size of two ATX motherboards.
Microsoft Surface applications can be written in Windows Presentation Foundation or XNA. The development process is much like normal Vista development, but custom WPF controls had to be created by the Surface team due to the unique interface of Surface. Developers already proficient in WPF can utilize the SDK to write Surface apps for deployments for the large hotels, casinos, and restaurants at which the machines will be next deployed.
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