Ahh, the PlayTable, er Surface Computing, how it works…

Andy Wilson. Remember the guy I introduced you to at Microsoft Research?

Funny, he was at the Maker Faire last weekend talking to everyone and showing off his latest thing. He builds demos for Bill Gates and he was the one who first showed me the PlayTable. Now called “Surface Computing.”

He handed me a stack of glass chips. I put one down. It revealed a video playing on the surface. You can see the same demo now two years later. My demo was of a prototype at Microsoft’s TechFest conference which was for employees only.

Anyway, surface computing is real and is wild. I want one of these in my house, but it is too expensive. Anyway, here’s how it works:

1) It has a piece of holographic glass that can display images that a projector shoots at it.
2) It has a projector underneath.
3) It has two cameras, aimed at the glass which can triangulate on objects on it.
4) It has software, written in Windows Presentation Foundation, that take advantage of the new hardware.

So, how does it recognize the glass chips placed on top of it? Easy, each chip has an invisible bar code in infrared-reflecting ink. Your eye can’t see it. The cameras can.

The problem is the expense. It costs a few grand for the glass, another grand or two for the projector, $50 for each camera, and then you need a computer underneath.

Which is why they didn’t announce you can buy one of these for your house.

Other cons? This thing does a killer demo. But can it do much more than the demo videos show? I’m not yet sure. It’s the kind of thing that’s killer for the first couple of hours but that gets old fast if there aren’t a bunch of real-world applications that you can do on the thing.

I’m watching the videos and seeing a lot of those same kind of killer demos but not much that would make me spend $5,000 on one of these.

How about you?

One thing, though. I love Andy Wilson. He’s an amazing developer. To me it’s totally amazing that he was helping kids out at Maker Faire. I wanted to grab each one of them and say “do you have any idea who you are talking with?”

UPDATE: I just discovered that surface computing was being worked on for more than five years now and that it highlights one of several directions that were pursued within the Surface Computing team, under Eric Horvitz, at Microsoft.

Comments

  1. Actually I can already think of my patients filling out their health history forms, and updates, (privately of course). Will it scan? that would be so cool! easy interface for patient education, expense wise a digital x-ray sensor is $8,000, this is almost a no brainer. I would love one in my office.

  2. Actually I can already think of my patients filling out their health history forms, and updates, (privately of course). Will it scan? that would be so cool! easy interface for patient education, expense wise a digital x-ray sensor is $8,000, this is almost a no brainer. I would love one in my office.

  3. Wonder if it wlll ever suck the information out of an ipod? it would probably just flash a skull and crossbones, or play some vomiting sounds or something? I bet the Zune data flows easily…………..

  4. Wonder if it wlll ever suck the information out of an ipod? it would probably just flash a skull and crossbones, or play some vomiting sounds or something? I bet the Zune data flows easily…………..

  5. It all comes down to marketing and adoption. This product has almost unimaginable possibilities…..wait….I can imagine a bunch of stuff. But it is going to take people implementing it on a wide scale for it to really take off. Fortunatley, MS has the $$$ to make that happen.

    Side note – If you watch the movie “The Island” there is a table that does similar things to what the Microsoft Surface product does. We also had a rather prominent ad for MSN Search in that movie. Could an early alpha od Surface be what was shown in the movie?

    Chris

  6. It all comes down to marketing and adoption. This product has almost unimaginable possibilities…..wait….I can imagine a bunch of stuff. But it is going to take people implementing it on a wide scale for it to really take off. Fortunatley, MS has the $$$ to make that happen.

    Side note – If you watch the movie “The Island” there is a table that does similar things to what the Microsoft Surface product does. We also had a rather prominent ad for MSN Search in that movie. Could an early alpha od Surface be what was shown in the movie?

    Chris

  7. John: and Jeff Han’s demos closely mimic lots of stuff I saw at Microsoft previous to that. Truth is that lots of smart people work on similar things at the same time and feed off of each other.

  8. John: and Jeff Han’s demos closely mimic lots of stuff I saw at Microsoft previous to that. Truth is that lots of smart people work on similar things at the same time and feed off of each other.

  9. Chris: if I were working in Hollywood I’d hang out with Andy Wilson. Out of everyone I meet he’s doing the most “out there” kind of computer science that I’ve seen.

  10. Chris: if I were working in Hollywood I’d hang out with Andy Wilson. Out of everyone I meet he’s doing the most “out there” kind of computer science that I’ve seen.

  11. Robert: I think you may have misinterpreted my comment. I was simply pointing out and sharing the striking similarity of the demos.

    I wasn’t bashing Microsoft. I’m very excited Microsoft is sharing what they’ve been working on. This is very cool stuff! I just hope journalists take the time to present work being done by others in the field as well.

    Microsoft isn’t alone or even the pioneer in the field. Many smart people have been working on and advancing this technology for the past 20 years or so.

  12. Robert: I think you may have misinterpreted my comment. I was simply pointing out and sharing the striking similarity of the demos.

    I wasn’t bashing Microsoft. I’m very excited Microsoft is sharing what they’ve been working on. This is very cool stuff! I just hope journalists take the time to present work being done by others in the field as well.

    Microsoft isn’t alone or even the pioneer in the field. Many smart people have been working on and advancing this technology for the past 20 years or so.

  13. It looks very cool, I’ve been watching all of the multi-touch stuff for quite a while and I can’t wait to get my hands on it (bad pun unintended).

    Unfortunately given the initial target market I can see this is going to be well outside most people’s budget for a couple of years – and hopefully it doesn’t end up in a patent war (the ideas have been around for a LONG time) and all the companies with patents just agree not to sue for the greater good – chances of this happening, slim to nothing :(

  14. It looks very cool, I’ve been watching all of the multi-touch stuff for quite a while and I can’t wait to get my hands on it (bad pun unintended).

    Unfortunately given the initial target market I can see this is going to be well outside most people’s budget for a couple of years – and hopefully it doesn’t end up in a patent war (the ideas have been around for a LONG time) and all the companies with patents just agree not to sue for the greater good – chances of this happening, slim to nothing :(

  15. Just a thought – gaming on that thing. RTS style stuff… awesome.

    And in 5 years when Joe Blogs can buy it? The price will have shot down. Just look at Hi-Def TVs or DVD players…

  16. Just a thought – gaming on that thing. RTS style stuff… awesome.

    And in 5 years when Joe Blogs can buy it? The price will have shot down. Just look at Hi-Def TVs or DVD players…

  17. THis will be great…for places that don’t deal with the general public, kids, or pets.

    But dude…what happens after a three year old pukes on it? Or a dog jumps on it, freaks and takes a massive leak on it. This isn’t something like a laptop that you can keep out of the way, it’s a *table*. Think about what happens to tables.

    Nice idea, but someone’s been watching too much “Minority Report”.

  18. THis will be great…for places that don’t deal with the general public, kids, or pets.

    But dude…what happens after a three year old pukes on it? Or a dog jumps on it, freaks and takes a massive leak on it. This isn’t something like a laptop that you can keep out of the way, it’s a *table*. Think about what happens to tables.

    Nice idea, but someone’s been watching too much “Minority Report”.

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  22. […] 1) It has a piece of holographic glass that can display images that a projector shoots at it. 2) It has a projector underneath. 3) It has two cameras, aimed at the glass which can triangulate on objects on it. 4) It has software, written in Windows Presentation Foundation, that take advantage of the new hardware. Source: Ahh, the PlayTable, er Surface Computing, how it works… […]

  23. the great things in this device are recognition and communication.
    there are multitouch blackboards in schools and the kids just love them
    I wish I was born just a little later… learning with these kind a stuff is a great journy, exciting experience much much more interesting and educating than the good old blackboards and maps
    But not just learning, every day life experiences would be much more interesting.
    I am personaly waiting for some kind of digital newspaper wich acts like paper but has memory and I can upload books, rss and stuff, but I can fold it, can sit with it on the toilet, can read it on moving vehicles, etc.

  24. the great things in this device are recognition and communication.
    there are multitouch blackboards in schools and the kids just love them
    I wish I was born just a little later… learning with these kind a stuff is a great journy, exciting experience much much more interesting and educating than the good old blackboards and maps
    But not just learning, every day life experiences would be much more interesting.
    I am personaly waiting for some kind of digital newspaper wich acts like paper but has memory and I can upload books, rss and stuff, but I can fold it, can sit with it on the toilet, can read it on moving vehicles, etc.

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    Like the rest of the blogging world (Scoble, ScottGu, Sam Gentile to name a few), I’m assimilating the possibilities of this new Microsoft technology.
    ( in fact, I think I’m making Microsoft sound like a not-so-bad version o…

  26. hi everyone this is mustufa and I am doing my computer engineering and for one of my seminar i have selected the topic of surface computing.I wanted more details on the technical aspects of surface computing if any one is aware do reply me my id is mustufa_vin@yahoo.com

  27. hi everyone this is mustufa and I am doing my computer engineering and for one of my seminar i have selected the topic of surface computing.I wanted more details on the technical aspects of surface computing if any one is aware do reply me my id is mustufa_vin@yahoo.com