Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Mystery of 'Milan' - Microsoft Surface

One of my favorite vacation hot spots is Las Vegas. By the end of the year, I expect to find "surface computing" devices floating about in the casinos using Microsoft's 'Milan', essentially a hardware/software combo running Vista and getting input directly by touch from one or several users at a time. Obviously, gaming in the Wynn or the Bellagio or Caesar's Palace with a few friends or drinking buddies gathered around a surface computing table will have a definite cache.

By the way, the screen for Milan is not a touch-screen, typically understood and used today. Instead, the surface is hard, large and "interactive" both in the sense that you can manipulate objects and put Wi-Fi objects like cameras on the surface and immediately download the photographs without doing anything else.

Commercial applications offer tremendous possibilities. T-Mobile applications have already been written that would let a sales associate and a potential customer place phones on the surface and immediately get detailed information on each, adding service configurations, ring tones, etc by moving objects around on the 30" diagonal surface.

Educational potential is amazing. Imagine devices like this in a cancer center where patients are waiting for radiation or chemotherapy and would like to interact with a counselor, a dietician, a nurse, or an oncologist explaining not only treatment plans, but options, diagrams and animations of the process to the patient (check out the University of Calgary's CAVEman virtual human for an example). Or imagine students designing a school newsletter interactively with their photos, articles, banners, etc. all available for joint manipulation. The possibilities of social interaction and training are truly staggering.

Milan isn't mysterious to the imagination. We've "seen" it before in movies like Minority Report. It isn't mysterious that it took a company like Microsoft to pull the ingredients together (things like 5 infrared cameras set below the display top to detect objects like cameras, Zunes, etc; and a custom DLP - digital light processing - engine, not to mention an operating system like Vista that is up to the graphical and input/output demands). What's mysterious to me is why the possibilities of this kind of computing experience isn't seen for what it is; namely, a revolution as significant as the move from text-based to graphics-based computing.

Talk about synchrony! My colleague and friend, Ruth, an IT Pro Advisor, wrote this morning about Microsoft's surface computing at her personal blog. Check it out. Her embedded Popular Mechanics video gives a great illustration of the ease of use and multi-point input technology behind "Milan".

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