Microsoft Surface : The next gen in Tech.
After you see the Surface in action, it doesn't take long to figure out
just how attractive such a machine must be to the retail and service
industries. Microsoft has partnered up with cellular provider T-Mobile,
as well as hotel conglomerate Starwood Hotels and Resorts (which owns
Sheraton, Westin and W Hotels, among others) and Vegas casino giant
Harrah's Entertainment. Machines will be ready for deployment by the
end of 2007.
So you could, for instance, walk into a T-Mobile store, pick up a
phone you're considering buying and place it on the Surface. The table
could then either link with the phone via Bluetooth or scan a code
imprinted on the packaging to identify it. Suddenly, the phone is
surrounded by graphical information (pricing, features, etc.). After
selecting a service plan and any accessories, you just run your credit
card through a reader built into the table (or, when RFID cards have become the norm,
just slap your card on the tabletop) and your new phone is paid for. By
the time you open the package, everything is set up — all without
talking to a single employee.
It's easy to dismiss the concept as pure novelty — and at first it
may well be. But ask yourself: When was the last time you made a bank
withdrawal from a human teller? The Surface machine is networked and
infinitely flexible. You could use it to order food in a restaurant.
While you wait, you could play games or surf the Internet, and then eat
off its surface. And every table in the joint could be a jukebox, a
television or a billboard for advertising. (You didn't think
advertisers would miss out on this, did you?)
And once you've gotten used to ordering calamari through a tabletop
at your favorite eatery, you may want to use it to call up recipes on
your kitchen counter. Surface machines will cost $5000 to $10,000 at
launch, but as prices fall, similar devices may find their way into the
home. "We view its migration as similar to that of plasma TVs," says
Pete Thompson, Microsoft's general manager for surface computing.
"People will see it in public spaces like bars and restaurants and want
to expand it into other environments." Its current coffee-table shape
could evolve into a Pottery Barn-style catalog of computerized
furniture — a dining room table, a wall-mounted panel, a desk or
practically any surface. "It's a platform that can be put into various
form factors," Thompson says. "This is a way to put technology into a
piece of wood."
Computer scientists see technologies such as surface computing and
multitouch as the key to a new era of ubiquitous computing, where
processing power is embedded in almost every object and everything is
interactive. Last year, New York University professor Jeff Han launched
a company called Perceptive Pixel, which builds six-figure-plus custom
multitouch drafting tables and enormous interactive wall displays for
large corporations and military situation rooms. "I firmly believe that
in the near future, we will have wallpaper displays in every hallway,
in every desk. Every surface will be a point of interaction with a
computer," Han says, "and for that to happen, we really need interfaces
Short-term success for a technology can be measured by how much
attention a product gathers when it is new. Long-term success is
measured by how effectively that product disappears into the everyday
routine of life. Surface computing has enormous potential to do both —
it is a splashy new computer interface, surrounded by hype, but it is
also, quite literally, furniture. It is a technology in its infancy,
where even the engineers behind it can't predict its full impact; but
the possibilities are everywhere, underhand and underfoot — on every
HOW IT WORKS
(1) Screen: A diffuser turns the Surface's acrylic
tabletop into a large horizontal "multitouch" screen, capable of
processing multiple inputs from multiple users. The Surface can also
recognize objects by their shapes or by reading coded "domino" tags.
(2) Infrared: Surface's "machine vision" operates in
the near-infrared spectrum, using an 850-nanometer-wavelength LED light
source aimed at the screen. When objects touch the tabletop, the light
reflects back and is picked up by multiple infrared cameras with a net
resolution of 1280 x 960.
(3) CPU: Surface uses many of the same components
found in everyday desktop computers — a Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of
RAM and a 256MB graphics card. Wireless communication with devices on
the surface is handled using WiFi and Bluetooth antennas (future
versions may incorporate RFID or Near Field Communications). The
underlying operating system is a modified version of Microsoft Vista.
(4) Projector: Microsoft's Surface uses the same DLP
light engine found in many rear-projection HDTVs. The footprint of the
visible light screen, at 1024 x 768 pixels, is actually smaller than
the invisible overlapping infrared projection to allow for better
recognition at the edges of the screen.
name Surface comes from "surface computing," and Microsoft envisions
the coffee-table machine as the first of many such devices.
Surface computing uses a blend of wireless protocols, special
machine-readable tags and shape recognition to seamlessly merge the
real and the virtual world — an idea the Milan team refers to as
"blended reality." The table can be built with a variety of wireless
transceivers, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and (eventually) radio
frequency identification (RFID) and is designed to sync instantly with
any device that touches its surface.
One of the key components of surface computing is a "multitouch"
screen. It is an idea that has been floating around the research
community since the 1980s and is swiftly becoming a hip new product interface — Apple's new iPhone
has multitouch scrolling and picture manipulation. Multitouch devices
accept input from multiple fingers and multiple users simultaneously,
allowing for complex gestures, including grabbing, stretching,
swiveling and sliding virtual objects across the table. And the Surface
has the added advantage of a horizontal screen, so several people can
gather around and use it together. Its interface is the exact opposite
of the personal computer: cooperative, hands-on, and designed for
If it seems as though the Surface machine sprang up out of nowhere,
that's only because Microsoft has been unusually secretive about it.
Early designs of the table were displayed around the room as evidence
of the product's long development cycle; rejected shapes included
"squashed white egg" and "podium." Steven Bathiche, research manager
for the project, has been involved since the beginning (in 2001) when
he and fellow researcher Andy Wilson first dreamed up the idea of a
tabletop computer. Bathiche spoke about the Milan project's evolution
with the evident excitement of a man who's had to keep the most
important thing he's ever done a secret for six years. "We've gone
through several generations of this machine," he said. "The first was a
proof-of-concept called T1, and we just hacked it into an IKEA table."
And there it was, partially disassembled, behind me. It looked as
if they had attacked the prefab particleboard furniture from the
Swedish superstore with a Sawzall, then stuffed in off-the-shelf
computer parts, cameras, projectors and mirrors until it all worked.
The idea went straight to the top: Once Bill Gates okayed it, surface
computing moved from a heady research project to the nuts-and-bolts
planning of product development.
Edited by albusdumbledore - 02 June 2007 at 6:21am