Getting inside a Microsoft surface computer

REDMOND. Wash.–First, Microsoft showed off its tabletop Surface computer. Then it showed what that might be like as a sphere. At TechFest on Tuesday, Microsoft actually let the user get inside the sphere.

Microsoft’s latest surface computing prototype uses a dome constructed from cardboard that serves as a giant display for all kinds of three-dimensional data. The main demo at TechFest featured the dome acting as a planetarium using data from Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope project. But, researcher Andy Wilson also showed the dome as a good backdrop for other things, such as video conferencing or mapping.

Microsoft’s Andy Wilson inside a dome-shaped surface computer shown Tuesday at Microsoft’s TechFest. In the background is an image from Building 99 on Microsoft’s campus.

Since it operates in the dark, the new surface computer relies largely on speech commands and hand gestures for navigation. Although it is probably a good choice in general, it made for some laughs when the speech recognition proved less than perfect.

“Earth,” Wilson said, prompting the computer to bring up a perfectly stunning image–of Mars.

Overall, though, the experience was quite impressive, with Wilson taking me through a rapid fire tour from Venus to the Crab Nebula before showing a 360-degree video image of the TechFest show floor. (I shot a couple of videos that I am working to upload now and will embed in the story once I have done so).

Beyond researchers, though, there is the question of who is going to have the space for their own dome. Although the cardboard dome wasn’t that expensive to build, not everyone is going to want to carve out a separate dome room in their house. With a somewhat brighter projector, the same effect could be done in a fairly dark room, Wilson said.

Sony Walkman promos are awesome, confusing…….

Over the past few months, Sony Japan has been marketing its Walkman brand of MP3 players with short, online videos showcasing experimental Japanese musicians. Personally, as someone who loves weird music, I think these video shorts are amazing. I’m not sure if they do anything to make me want to buy a Walkman, but I’m certainly convinced that the Japanese experimental music scene is alive and well. The video above shows off Atsuhiro Ito, a musician who plays a mic’d up fluorescent tube called the Optron, which he runs through a series of guitar effects. The video is enough to induce epilepsy, but the percussive, screeching sounds he’s able to create are unreal. In the video below, Taeji Sawai creates a dreamy down-tempo song using a lightpen and a complex rig of cameras, projectors and software that transform his gestures into beats and melodies.

Eye-socket camera films from inside the head

There’s a blurred line between challenge and opportunity.

Having lost his eye in a childhood accident and suffered a lot of pain, Rob Spense, a 36-year-old filmmaker, has decided to do something that’ll put filming and seeing into just one eye, quite literally.

The prosthesis and the tiny camera it contains.

His work is called the Eyeborg project, and involves his friend Kosta Grammatis, a photographer/engineer, and a team of ocularists, inventors, and engineering specialists. The team is building a prosthetic eye that can capture and transmit video.

While the idea is simple, it’s a great engineering challenge. For the project to be successful, the smallest, lightest, most power-efficient technologies have to be found and implemented.

The team is using the world’s smallest CMOS camera for the project. This device is about 1.5 millimeters squared. It’s so small that if you sneeze while it’s resting on your open palm, you might never find it again.

The eye camera captures and sends video signal wirelessly using an RF transmitter as small as the tip of a pencil. According to Kosta, the data will be sent to a recorder placed in a backpack. The eye-socket camera is powered by a lithium polymer battery that fits inside the prosthesis.

Rob and the team are currently working on a documentary about the Eyeborg Project and the experience of living with a bionic eye.

Their work could ultimately help San Francisco artist Tanya Vlach who is looking for technology to use for her own bionic eye-cam.