Today at Microsoft Research TechFest 2009, visitors immersed themselves in technologies that promise to change the way people interact with computers, take advantage of new computing power from many core processors and make datacenters far more energy-efficient.
The technologies were being shown as part of TechFest, the research lab's ninth annual innovation fair that draws thousands of Microsoft Corp. employees to view futuristic projects that grow out of the company's global investment in basic research. Many of the technologies demonstrated at TechFest ultimately make their way into the next generation of Microsoft products.
For one day only, nearly 40 technologies, out of hundreds, were on display to the public for a glimpse at what tomorrow's computing technologies will make possible.
Addressing attendees at TechFest, Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, reinforced the company's commitment to investing for the long term.
"Conducting basic and applied research is part of Microsoft's DNA," Mundie said. "More than ever we're committed to this investment, enabling our researchers and developers to continue advancing technology for challenging societal problems and pushing the boundaries of computing in exciting ways."
Speaking together with Mundie, Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, said the company's long-standing commitment to basic research has impacted nearly every product the company releases, and many of the innovations have been shown at TechFest along the way.
"Research projects at TechFest are technological hints at what the future holds," Rashid said. "In past years we've shown touch technologies that are now part of Microsoft Surface, artificial intelligence projects that enhanced Live Search and Windows, and database and graphics research that led to WorldWide Telescope."
This year the projects ranged from natural user interface technologies that respond to speech, touch and gesture for the automobile, home and office to important new datacenter technologies intended to greatly reduce the costs of datacenters.
Rashid announced a new research organization called Cloud Computing Futures aimed at reducing datacenter costs by fourfold or greater, while accelerating deployment and increasing adaptability and resilience to failures.
"Our cloud computing research begins with a key concept: the datacenter is a computer, and it must be designed and programmed as an integrated system," Rashid said. The group, led by Dan Reed, director of scalable and multicore systems, will target lowering hardware costs and power consumption, as well as reducing the environmental impact of operations, particularly in carbon emissions.
The group will partner with others across the broader industry to explore hardware innovations while simultaneously building the software stack to exploit new hardware designs.
Two particular datacenter projects were on display:
* Closed-Loop Control Systems for the Datacenter, a project aimed at improving the energy efficiency of datacenters by selectively putting idle servers into a low-power state while maintaining service response times
* Low-Power Processors for the Datacenter, an experiment to build a server from low-power processors and evaluate how well it runs some of the tasks typically performed in a datacenter, such as processing a large number of independent requests or running databases for a Web site
Other projects from Microsoft's worldwide labs spanning dozens of disciplines in computer science that were shown to the public at TechFest 2009 included the following:
* Commute UX: Dialog System for In-Car Infotainment, a set of spoken language technologies that enable automobile drivers to easily interact with their devices and information more naturally
* Audio Spatialization and Acoustic Echo Cancellation for Teleconferencing, a technology that makes the teleconferencing
experience more realistic, which is especially important as travel budgets become more constrained
* Sticky Notes in Augmented Reality, an investigation of new ways for people to use the physical space around them to interact with thedigital information and media they really care about, wherever they are
* Situated Interaction, a project that weaves together multiple sensing, learning and reasoning components to create conversational systems that help with everyday tasks and activities to bring to life services such as those provided by a personal assistant and a building receptionist
* Social Media and Learning Theory, a study that examines people's online behavior and helps to model social interactions so people can get the most value from their networks
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