Microsoft's Multi-touch Interface on a Globe

First Microsoft brought its multi-touch interface, Surface, to tabletops. Next, Microsoft demonstrated how the interface could be taken vertical to walls. Now it looks like Microsoft's Surface technology is ready for global domination--16 to 72-inch globes that is.

This week at Microsoft's ninth annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft showed off its Sphere research project, which takes its cues from the Surface concept and morphs the multi-touch interface onto the surface of a globe. Here is how Microsoft explains how the technology works:

"Our prototype device builds on a commercially available globe projection system (Global Imagination’s Magic Planet). We have added touch-sensing capabilities with an infrared camera that shares the optical path with the projector. This novel configuration permits us to enclose both the projection and the sensing mechanism in the base of the device and allows for easy 360 degrees access to the device and high degree of interactivity without shadowing or occlusion problems. We have also developed a custom graphics projection pipeline that solves the distortion problems and enables projected data to be correctly visualized on the curved surface.

The applications developed for Sphere currently include a picture and video browser, interactive globe visualization, finger painting, globe visualization, and an omni-directional video-conferencing application (360 degree panoramic video from Microsoft RoundTable device). These applications are designed for highly interactive public space environments (e.g., museums, lobbies, information booths) and highlight the appeal of the device as well as its visualization and interaction capabilities."

Credit: Seattle Post Intelligencer
Todd Bishop, reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that Microsoft is not planning to offer the Sphere as a product per se, but is more interested in exploring the technology's capabilities and seeing how people interact with it. As Bill Gates reiterated when he demonstrated the multi-touch wall concept at Microsoft’s 12th annual CEO Summit in May, Microsoft envisions a time when interactive, multi-touch, display technology is inexpensive enough to be implemented in a plethora of everyday surfaces.

How we interface with computers is starting to move from the realm of keyboard, mice, and traditional desktop-displays that we're all familiar with. (It wasn't that long ago that inputting information to computers was done via punch cards.) In fact, what we even consider a "computer" is starting to change as well. The iPhone is the perfect example of a non-traditional interface and non-traditional computer. The iPhone's functionality is limited when compared to a traditional computer and is therefore unlikely to replace the computer for most users; but along with Microsoft's forays into alternative interfaces, we're starting to get a glimpse into what the future of computers might look like and how we might interact with them.