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

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Microsoft just launched the consumer preview of Windows 8. That means anyone who wants to check out the latest version of Microsoft’s new operating system — unveiled on Wednesday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona — can download it right now and start scrolling through Metro apps in all of their tiled glory.

How can you get this groundbreaking piece of pre-release software? Just head on over to Microsoft’s site and download. Microsoft has said repeatedly that Windows 8 would run on any machine that can run Windows 7, so theoretically you should be able to install it on your Win7 PC with no problems (of course, be sure to back up all your stuff thoroughly).

Be warned, though: this is pre-release “beta” software — not ready for prime time yet. As we found in our detailed look at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the OS still has many bugs, and some of the functionality isn’t fully baked. Most notably on the “under construction” list: OS-level sharing, which right now can only be done with the Mail app.

SEE ALSO: Microsoft on Windows Phone: We’re Exactly Where We Need to Be
However, for those bold enough, using Windows 8 on a touchscreen device or with a traditional mouse and keyboard is a fascinating experience. Many Metro apps, with their full-screen nature, look gorgeous, and Microsoft has built bridges into the OS for connecting with services such as Facebook and Flickr. Of course, the traditional desktop is always just a click or two away.

When will you be able to get the final version of Windows 8? Not till this fall, when Microsoft is expected to release it to the public — along with an nearly identical version of Windows for low-power ARM devices and a big update to Windows Phone that’ll bring it more in line with Windows 8.

Until then, you’ve got this to play with. What do you think of Windows 8? Have your say in the comments, and watch for our Open Thread post later today.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: An Overview


Start Menu

Here’s what greets you every time you log into your Windows 8 machine. Yes, the tiles are customizable, though it’s a little unwieldy in practice.

Click here to view this gallery.

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Your favorite mobile apps should soon be making it a lot more clear when they intend to use your data.

The Attorney General of California, Kamala D. Harris, announced Wednesday a deal with Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research in Motion; the companies agreed to strengthen privacy protection for users that download third-party apps to smartphones and tablet devices.

In the deal, the companies said they would require app developers to clearly spell out what data their apps can access and what the app or company does with that data. The deal also makes app store custodians such as Apple and Google, who run the App Store and Android Market, set up a way for users to report apps that don’t provide a clear-cut explanation of their privacy policies.

According to a statement from Attorney General Harris’ office, if an app developer doesn’t meet these new privacy-policy requirements, they could be charged with a crime under California law.

“California has a unique commitment to protecting the privacy of our residents,” said Harris. “Our constitution directly guarantees a right to privacy, and we will defend it.”

Android users are well aware that developers on the platform are required to ask them for permission before accessing their personal data, but they’re not told how or why their data is being accessed. Apple also doesn’t allow any software on its App Store that takes personal information without asking, but developers haven’t been transparent on that platform, either.

In fact, Harris’ office says, only five percent of all mobile apps offer a privacy policy. And developers across both platforms have come under fire recently for coding software that transmits users’ personal data unbeknownst to them.

That controversy managed to pique the interest of some members of Congress, who sent a letter of inquiry to Apple.

Should lawmakers intervene when the creators of popular platforms like Android and iOS may not be doing enough to protect the privacy of their users? Sound off in the comments below.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, TommL

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As Microsoft frantically programs and polishes what may be its most important Windows update ever — Windows 8 — it has also revised the operating system’s image. Obviously, Windows 8 is a bold departure from previous editions. Now the Windows logo is being reimagined, as well, and the results may surprise some people.

Microsoft hired the global design firm Pentagram, which has done rebranding for Nissan, Walgreens, The Metropolitan Museum and countless others, to reimagine the logo. The result is a pale blue imprimatur that leans toward the clean lines of Windows 8’s new Metro interface, while paying homage to Windows logos of the past. What some people think of as the “flag” has been replaced with a four-pane window that angles off into the distance.

Early versions of the Windows logo made it clear that the flag was originally intended as a Window — what Sam Moreau, Principal Director of User Experience for Windows, called “a metaphor for computing,” in the blog post announcing the design change, However, with each iteration, the Window became wavier, until it was, well, a flag.

Interestingly, the logo is probably most inspired by the very first Windows logo design, which also had a four-pane box, though it looks little like a Window.

Considering how strikingly different Windows 8 is from any Windows OS that’s come before it, this austere and slightly dull design is a bit of a disappointment. Still, the outcome clearly aligns with the goals of the project. Microsoft wanted it to be “modern and classic” and to eschew any “faux industrial design characteristics” like rendered glass, wood or plastic. And the software giant wanted it to be “humble, yet confident.”

The default color may strike some as too weak for a logo, but Moreau said in the post that the logo will change color when you change your system colors.

What do you think of the new logo? Tell us in the comments.

Original Windows Logo

The era before they decided to add four colors.

Click here to view this gallery.

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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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In our recent Designer Tech Series, supported by Lincoln, Mashable wrote about the intersection of tech, entrepreneurship, business and social good. This roundup showcases gadgets from some of the world’s most innovative companies, and we spoke to each company’s design team to learn about how the product’s design adds to its functionality. To read more, click through to get the full story.

1. Nest: The Story Behind the World’s Most Beautiful Thermostat

Nest Labs is turning up the heat in the gadget world with its beautiful, high-tech and smart thermostat. Designed by a team comprising ex-Apple engineers, medical technologists and machine learning experts, Nest isn’t just a pretty piece for your wall — the $249 device saves money and energy by learning user behavior and adjusting itself accordingly. It’s either the most brilliant new gadget category or the most nerdy case of excess tech of 2011. Either way, we love it.

2. Lytro: The Biggest Thing to Happen to Photography Since Digital

With all the snazzy cameras and lenses out there, you might think there couldn’t be a higher-tech photography tool on the market. And you would be wrong. Because the soon-to-hit-shelves Lytro camera is the world’s first consumer light-field camera. Unlike your DLSR or point-and-shoot, a light-field camera captures all the light information from all the rays in its field of view — not just color and intensity, but direction as well. The result is that you can focus the image after the fact, creating a “living picture.” Go ahead, try it below and read on to find out how it works.

3. Retro Speakers Find Style — and Big Sound — in Simplicity

Old is new again … and cool again. Case in point — the minimalist and retro Libratone speakers, the epitome of Danish design. “We design to stand out, but not like a sore thumb,” according to the company’s philosophy statement. “We design to blur the lines between furniture and stereo systems by applying the aesthetics of the Scandinavian heritage to our design thinking.” Check out Libratone’s high-end Live and Lounge speakers, which hit the market in the U.S. in recent months.

4. Microsoft Surface 2.0: From ‘Minority Report’ to Reality

Touch is quickly becoming the most important sense in technology — just take a look at today’s tap- and swipe-operated smartphones, tablets and thermostats. And now, we have surface computing, an area of technology previously reserved for the big screen, a la Minority Report. With Surface 2.0, Microsoft is taking surface computing to the next level. Here’s an explanation of the technology’s history and, more importantly, its future.

5. A Closer Look at the iPhone-Controlled Coffee Brewer

During a time when we’re all multitasking, it’s nice to know that you can brew four cups of coffee in one minute out of a stainless steel faucet with just a few taps on your iPhone while you get ready for the day in the other room. Yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, the TopBrewer isn’t your standard coffee maker. Purveyed by Scanomat, a family-owned company in Denmark, the TopBrewer is the world’s smartest and sleekest — everything but a swan-neck faucet is hidden in a cabinet — coffeemaker to date. Here’s an explanation of how it works, along with a peek at the modern barista — an iPhone app.

6. The Android-Powered Smart Watch Marries Luxury and Tech

Another technology that originated on the big screen is the smart watch, like the one worn by Dick Tracy. And now it’s arrived in the real world. Italian designer tech company i’m has debuted its i’m Watch, marketed as “the first real smart watch.” The i’m Watch can run nearly anything on its customized Android interface, and it tethers to your smartphone (yes, even BlackBerrys and iPhones) to handle phone calls, SMS, music and apps. But in addition to supreme functionality, the i’m Watch is also incredibly good-looking.

Which of these gadgets most piques your interest? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Leaders in Design Series is supported by Volvo.

Font designer Steve Matteson, 46, is behind some of the most recognizable typefaces on consumer products today. From the Droid series of fonts in Android’s mobile phone platform to Xbox, Xbox 360 and the suite of fonts that comes with Microsoft products, such as Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, Matteson’s work is everywhere.

While attending the School of Printing at Rochester Institute of Technology, he became enchanted with the text printed on the pages of books. He studied calligraphy, design and typography, and set out to turn this passion into a full-time career. He now works at Monotype Imaging, which specializes in typesetting and typeface design. It’s the company that has brought us various popular fonts including Helvetica, Times New Roman and ITC Franklin Gothic.

Mashable spoke with Matteson about his love for design and what drives him to keep pushing the creative envelope.

Q&A with Steve Matteson, Font Designer

How would you describe your design style?

I approach design from a problem-solving perspective. Most of my work over the past 25 years has been focused on creating custom typefaces for specific environments, such as mobile-device screens or corporate branding. This gives me a set of rules to work within and depending on the project, it can either restrain me or free me up to embrace self-expression.

Are you particular about font styles?

Type gives a voice to the author’s message, and it’s bothersome when there is a disconnect between the two. The only time I’m very particular about typeface styles is when they’re used inappropriately or without imagination. It’s how a musician feels when a certain composition is played in a style that’s out of place. For example, Comic Sans is perfect for comic books but awful in formal settings. G.F. Handel’s Messiah would be bad in a hip-hop mix.

What’s your font of choice?

“Type gives a voice to the author’s message, and it’s bothersome when there is a disconnect between the two.”

The typefaces I use every day are dictated by what I’m producing. I’m a big fan of book typefaces and those with some character. I tend to use designs with an organic, non-mechanical appearance. My favorite design is the Font Bureau‘s version of Californian, originally designed by Frederic Goudy for University of California at Berkeley.

How does one become a font designer?

People have come to type design from many different backgrounds. Thanks to type-design computer software and a few college degree programs that now allow students to study design type from an early age, more are attracted to the field. It seems like a narrow discipline, but it requires a wide variety of influence. Some of the best text-type designs came from book designers such as Bruce Rogers, Fred Goudy or Jan Tschichold. Lettering artists and calligraphers have made huge contributions to expressive type designs. Again, type design is similar to music. You have a framework within which to work: key signatures, tempo, rhythm, genre and so on. Successful composers are drawn to this framework and work within the limitations. Designers see a similar framework to work within in type. They are either smitten by it or never come back.


Droid Sans, the font


What design or project of yours are you most proud of?

My proudest achievement is probably the designs I did for Google’s Android mobile platform. Droid Sans, Droid Serif and now OpenSans — based on Droid Sans — have become very popular. I really like these because while they are highly utilitarian, they also have a lot of me in them. They weren’t made so neutral as to prevent me from expressing myself. It’s also rewarding to see my work used by huge numbers of consumers every day.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with design so far?

The typeface family I designed for the hardware of XBox 360 was the biggest challenge. The company wanted a new typeface family to reflect the redesign of the device, but I couldn’t see any of the hardware designs in progress or how the typefaces would be rendered on the XBox screens. I had to take the designer’s word for it that I was headed in the right direction throughout the six-month project. When I saw the final product with my typefaces, it was a relief that it successfully provided a unified brand voice.

How is design for companies different now than it was a few years ago?

The adoption of web fonts technology by browser manufacturers has created a rebirth in typographic expression on the web. Companies are seeing a huge shift towards recreating their collateral for the web and mobile. Even in the last 2 years, we saw a lot of ‘web safe’ system fonts conveying corporate messages — such as IKEA’s switch to Verdana — now you see the corporate brand voice in the proper corporate typeface. It’s like the desktop publishing revolution all over again.


What advice would you give to inspiring and up-and-coming designers?

Don’t be discouraged by the overnight success of peers. This can lead to impatience and bad-decision making. I’ve seen a few designers flame out as they try to keep up with self-promoters with large web-based followings. Hard work is definitely the only way to succeed, but balance is also important. I turn to cycling on the roads and trails of Colorado. I also play trumpet in two ensembles and carve letters into stone. The creative energy has to come from somewhere, and if it’s constantly depleted, it’s not going to recharge.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, esolla

Series supported by Volvo


The Leaders in Design Series is supported by Volvo. Experience the newest Volvo for yourself. Step inside the 325hp 2011 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design at

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1. Pixelated Hands Sticky Note Pads

What better way to get someone’s attention than these sticky notes?

Cost: $4.99

Click here to view this gallery.

The ubiquitous hand-shaped pointer has been a part of the consumer computing experience since the early days, and is familiar to both PC and Mac users.

It’s this familiarity that has crossed it over into real life, with a variety of hand-shaped accessories — both pixelated and not — created in a homage to the iconic design.

SEE ALSO: A Brief History of the Emoticon

Take a look through our image gallery celebrating the hand-shaped pointer. Let us know in the comments which items you’d like to have at your fingertips.

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Hackers have used a security flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to infect computers with the the Duqu virus, Microsoft has admitted.

“We are working diligently to address this issue and will release a security update for customers,” Microsoft said in a statement.

The Duqu virus, which was discovered in October by Symantec, is thought by some experts to be the next big cyber security threat. It shares some of the code with Stuxnet, a malicious worm which targeted Iran’s nuclear program, but Duqu is specifically created for gathering intelligence data from agencies and corporations.

Microsoft’s statement did not include any additional details, but Symantec discovered that Duqu was initially infecting systems through a compromised Microsoft Word document which installs the malicious software after it’s opened.

Duqu infections have currently been confirmed in several countries, including France, Netherlands, Switzerland, India, Iran, Ukraine, Sudan and Vietnam.

[via Reuters, Symantec]

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, goldmund

More About: Duqu, microsoft, virus

Microsoft and Apple are the developers of three of the most popular operating systems in the world (Windows, iOS & Mac OS X), yet their approaches to building the infrastructure that powers laptops, tablets and phones couldn’t be more divergent.

Microsoft recently published a blog post that addressed specific issues that Windows 8 developer preview users had with the start screen.

The Windows 8 team specifically tackles the complaint that the new Windows 8 start screen, which uses the app-style metro interface, isn’t effective at organizing apps (it was originally organized alphabetically) and doesn’t display enough apps on one screen (it originally displayed about 20 apps). Microsoft dives deep into the UX issues of start menus, even calculating how many apps Windows 8 can theoretically fit onto one display at different monitor resolutions.

In the end though, Microsoft concluded that its users were right about the Windows 8 start menu and made two important changes to it as a result. First, it now supports folder-style organization of apps. Secondly, Microsoft is making the start screen denser, meaning that more apps will be visible on a single screen.

The Apple Approach to OS Development

Microsoft’s approach lies in stark contrast to Apple‘s approach to OS development. The notoriously secretive company doesn’t like unveiling products until they are polished. It doesn’t publish detailed stats about how people are using its products. And it rarely makes dramatic changes based on user feedback.

It’s an approach that has worked just fine for Apple (more than fine, in fact). Steve Jobs and his team have been able to develop products and features that users wanted long before users they even knew they wanted them.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” Steve Jobs told BusinessWeek in 1998. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

This is why you won’t find an Apple blog that details user behavior in iOS. This is why Apple only gives developers a few months to play with new versions of Mac OS X before they get released to the public, while Microsoft will release a new version of Windows to developers more than a year before its official debut.

Both companies are wildly successful with their operating systems. Windows is still the world’s most popular OS, while Apple keeps selling iPhone and iPads by the millions. But we’re about to see what happens when these two opposing philosophies to development butt heads. Microsoft is preparing for war against the iPad, and Windows 8 is its weapon of choice.

Will Microsoft’s philosophy to development trump Apple’s approach? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but we do know that the fireworks are just getting started.

Check out the galleries below if you want to do a side-by-side comparison of Apple and Microsoft’s approaches to building an OS. Let us know which philosophy you prefer in the comments.

Gallery: Windows 8

Windows 8 Metro Home Screen

This is the Metro interface in Windows 8

Click here to view this gallery.

Gallery: iOS 5

New Home Screen With Notification

Notifications are a big deal in iOS 5. Taking some cues from Android, iOS has finally unified the notification system and made it less clumsy and intrusive.

Message now appear at the top of the screen (though you can choose to allow them to display in the middle) while you are using the phone and they don’t interrupt what you are already doing.

Click here to view this gallery.

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