Many believed we would have true virtual worlds by 2011, just see about any science-fiction film or book. Microsoft's Research Cambridge facility has taken a rather large step in letting humans interact with a virtual space. The "Holodesk" is the latest from the Sensors and Devices group, which combines graphics processing algorithms with Kinect for fast, real-time, virtual object manipulation.
In the Holodesk, a user can manipulate virtual objects with their hands. Using what they call "beam-splitters" with graphics processing algorithms, Microsoft delivers a life-like experience for the user. A person can scoop up balls, stack blocks, and even use other real-world objects in the space. All the hand and object tracking is done by the Kinect, the heart of Holodesk The 3D desk is created using half-mirrored glass and aligned is such a way to give a 3D perspective.
The research is part of Microsoft's "Natural User Interface" (NUI) initiative. The goal is researching the way users can control on screen content in a natural way through gestures and movement. Kinect, Microsoft Surface, and now the Holodesk are all part of the NUI effort.
It is obvious that gaming and machine simulation will be the first applications for the Holodesk. I only hope to see it available sometime before the even more futuristic year 2020.
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