Microsoft researchers have created a new augmented reality concept by improving how virtual simulations react in the physical world.

The Kinect sensor is used in a process called Kinect Fusion, which allows projections of objects to react to different surfaces. Kinect Fusion is possible with the Beamatron — a device consisting of the Kinect sensor and a projector. It’s attached to a spinning head in the ceiling and allows it to take detailed maps of physical spaces.

This technology projects objects anywhere in a room and allows realistic movement. It bumps into objects such as table, chairs and walls. Plus, the simulation is never distorted when crossing over bumpy surfaces.

It’s now possible for virtual objects to interact within physical spaces like never before. The projector can sense what is going on in the room and shows changes in seconds.

In a video, Andy Wilson, Microsoft principal researcher drives a 3D image of a toy car around a room with a remote control. It bumps into walls and drives over hills.

SEE ALSO: With Augmented Reality, Wallit App Assigns Virtual Walls to Physical Places
The Microsoft researchers are also working to apply this augmented reality technology to help individuals in their surroundings. Future technology will scope the environment and bring “notifications and other graphics to the attention of a user by automatically placing the graphics within the user’s view.” Other applications of this augmented reality technology may be applied to architecture and gaming.

Check out the above video for more details.

What do you think about virtual and physical worlds merging as one? Tell us in the comments.

Image courtesy of Flickr, MichaelMarner

More About: Augmented Reality, kinect, microsoft

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iTV? Not in the cards yet, but to hold you over until Apple releases its TV, Samsung has a few ideas about how to re-invent the television. On Samsung’s new Smart TVs, you control your system with gesture, voice, keyboards and good old-fashioned buttons. And, unlike Apple’s mystery device, they’re on sale this month.

Samsung first showed off its Smart TV technology in January at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but you’ll be forgiven for missing it among the hundreds of daily product unveilings. We got some hands-on time with Samsung’s Smart TVs and can say they definitely open up a lot of potential. Whether people will respond to them is another matter.

On all of Samsung’s 2012 Smart TVs, you can control them in any of four ways:

  1. Voice, which will inevitably be compared to Siri, the voice assistant on the iPhone 4S. While Samsung’s solution is more limited since it’s tailored to operate the Smart TV interface, Samsung reps say there’s potential to go beyond that. The TVs are all equipped with microphones, and so is the remote (in case it’s noisy).
  2. Gesture: Here’s where Samsung borrows heavily from Microsoft Kinect, although some details (like closing your fingers to “select”) are different.
  3. Keyboard: This is optional, but useful for when you need to do some serious data input, like logging in to your YouTube account. There’s also an onscreen keyboard if you don’t have it.
  4. Remote Control: Yep, it’s not gone — there’s still a remote for Samsung’s Smart TVs, although it doesn’t look like your typical button-filled slab. Samsung’s austere remote (which you can check out in the gallery) is equipped with a touchpad as well as “hard” buttons.

So does it work? Somewhat. Voice control was the clear winner in my brief hands on with the TV’s mic understanding me about 75% of the time when I projected well, and the remote’s mic doing even better. Gesture control was by far the most awkward, as I constantly was missing icons, holding them too long or performing gestures when I didn’t intend to. It takes practice, certainly, though swiping will always be more accurate and intuitive than “selecting.”

Surprisingly, using the remote control itself was awkward, too. The touchpad isn’t very intuitive, and when you want to type in a number (like a channel), it calls up an onscreen pad. I don’t know why Samsung thought that was a better experience than a number pad on the remote. As for the keyboard, it’s a keyboard. Only a few people will tolerate it in the living room, but for those who do, it’ll be indispensable.

SEE ALSO: Will Apple’s TV Have a Super-Smart Touchscreen Remote? [VIDEO]
The Smart TVs come with a few bonuses. First is the infrared blaster, which simplifies controlling other gear with your Samsung remote. Samsung’s also made an effort to “future-proof” the TV, equipping it with a port on the back where users can plug in what’s called an Evolution Kit for hardware upgrades. And the TV design simply rocks.

Samsung’s Smart TVs will be in stores within the next two weeks, priced between $1,200 and $5,100 for sizes ranging from 40 to 65 inches.

What do you think of Samsung’s bid to re-invent the remote control? Remarkable innovation or doomed to fail? Sound off in the comments.


Samsung Smart Touch Remote



The new remote control on Samsung’s Smart TVs eschews the typical number buttons for a touchpad and microphone for voice control.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: itv, kinect, remote controls, samsung, siri, Smart TV

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As Steve Ballmer promised in January, Microsoft has released version 1.0 of the Kinect for the Windows Software Development Kit (SDK).

Improvements since the Beta 2 version, which was released in November 2011, include support for up to four Kinect sensors on one computer, improved skeletal tracking and speech recognition accuracy, as well as numerous API updates, stability, runtime and audio fixes.

Also of note is the Near Mode that enables the depth camera to see objects very close (40 cm) in front of the device.

Kinect for Windows Hardware is now available in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Japan, New Zealand and Mexico.

The suggested retail price of Kinect for Windows hardware is $249, but Microsoft promises special academic pricing of $149 for qualified educational users later this year.

Now that everything is set from Microsoft’s side, all that’s missing are the apps. We’ll see if Kinect for Windows lures developers to create some good ones in the coming months.

More About: Gaming, kinect, microsoft, SDK, Windows

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Imagine you’re a gaming console manufacturer, and some kid hacks your console to do “neat tricks.” Do you help him or sue him?

The question isn’t a hypothetical one; currently, two rival companies have each taken one of these roads. What remains to be seen is which approach will be more profitable, both financially and in terms of gamer goodwill.

Microsoft is set to release a Kinect software developer kit (SDK) to academics and enthusiasts later this spring; the company really is welcoming hackers and curious minds to go to town on its hands-free gestural control interface.

Who could have guessed that the Windows maker, which has struggled to shake an unjustly stodgy image, would be the first to invite experimental development on its gaming platform? Or that its biggest rival in the gaming space, Sony and the PlayStation 3, would be gathering some bad PR of its own for suing PS3 hackers at the same time?

Why Is Sony Suing?

Here’s the skinny: Sony is suing, among other entities, George Hotz, a.k.a. geohot, a 21-year-old hacker who is well known for his iPhone jailbreaking. In fact, Hotz created the first-ever public software exploit for jailbreaking the iPhone 3GS. After working on jailbreak software for the iPhone 4, iPad and a slew of other Apple devices, Hotz turned his attention to the PlayStation 3.

Hotz hacked on the PS3 for at least seven months, successfully opening up the console for homebrew games and PS2 emulation. Along the way, he released the root key (also known as the metldr key), which decrypted the PS3′s loaders, allowing anyone who wanted to open up their own PS3s to do so.

Because of that, Hotz is now knee-deep in a bitter lawsuit with Sony, a lawsuit that’s cost him more than he can afford to pay. In fact, he had to beg the Internet for the more than $10,000 he needed to cover his legal bills.

While Sony says Hotz violated copyrights and committed computer fraud, Hotz, who claims to have never played a pirated game in his life, retorts, “They don’t really care about piracy; they care about control.”

How Microsoft Is Helping Hackers

In a stark contrast, Microsoft seems to not give two shakes about control, at least as far as hacking with the Kinect is concerned.

The company’s brand new gestural control system is as hot as it is financially successful. While many corporations would keep a money-maker like that tightly locked down, Microsoft is doing everything it can to invite more hackers to play with and create experiments with the Kinect.

Microsoft’s big test came last November when a prominent Google engineer staged a Kinect-hacking contest. Previously, Microsoft had made statements that it wanted to make Kinect tamper-proof and would work with law enforcement to ensure that it remained so. But the company changed its tune last November, saying it was “excited to see that people are so inspired” by the possibilities inherent in the Kinect.

Since then, hackers have used the Kinect for everything from World of Warcraft “magic” to music video production.

And today, given the success of Kinect hacking for Xbox, Microsoft announced it will release a non-commercial “Kinect for Windows” SDK. The company says the reason for “a starter kit for application developers is to make it easier for academic research and enthusiast communities to create even richer experiences using Kinect technology.”

The SDK is coming from Microsoft Research (MSR) in collaboration with the Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB), and it will give devs “deep Kinect system capabilities such as audio, system APIs, and direct control of the sensor.”

A commercial version of the SDK will be available soon.

Which Company Is Right?

The bigger picture Microsoft is trying to convey is that, as a company, Microsoft has long been excited about natural user interfaces; and it wants you, the hacker, to be excited about them, too. Granted, there are still likely some strings attached, and we doubt the company would be tickled to have you blog about Xbox jailbreak codes.

Nevertheless, suing users who hack your console versus helping users who hack (part of) your console are two interesting and opposed actions that are likely to be judged with great relish in the court of popular opinion.

How should Sony be handling geohot and other PS3 hackers who just want to make the console do neat tricks? Is this lawsuit really doing anything other than garnering the multinational corporation a boatload of bad PR?

In the comments, tell us what you would do if you were a Sony exec. We look forward to reading your responses.

More About: geohot, george hotz, hacking, kinect, microsoft, PS3, sony, trending, xbox

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