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7/30/2009
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Xbox's Project Natal Revamped For Offices?

The technology behind Microsoft's Project Natal, a future Xbox technology that employs voice recognition technology and uses a camera to recognize gestures and eliminate the need for a controller, could eventually make its way into the business world.

The technology behind Microsoft's Project Natal, a future Xbox technology that employs voice recognition technology and uses a camera to recognize gestures and eliminate the need for a controller, could eventually make its way into the business world.Eventually, it's likely the technology (video here) ends up being pervasive, Microsoft chief research officer Craig Mundie said at the company's annual Financial Analyst Meeting on Thursday. "As the computing capability -- and these novel capabilities like the Natal project camera are brought forward, we can expand [them] in dramatic ways," he said. "We do see the evolution of this natural user interface."

Mundie showed off Microsoft's latest vision of the office cubicle of the future, which uses Natal-like technology, combined with multi-touch, projectors and the company's "robotic receptionist" technology to create an experience eerily reminiscent of that presented in the film Minority Report.

Gesture recognition, though, is a critical piece of that vision. Many of the other advances, like touch, have thus far not completely re-imagined the computer, but rather just the graphical user interface. "[It's] a little bit like they did with the Xbox where clearly they knew what games historically were with the controllers," Mundie said. "You step back and say, well, what could the concept be if there is no controller, you are the controller? In that environment, you just want to interact in a completely different way, then you start to think differently about how to develop the application."

In the demo, Mundie used a gesture to pull up an image of a building design and place himself within that design. The camera sensed him moving around inside that image, changing the perspective on the screen to determine, for example, whether employees the building would be able to see a nearby harbor from a rooftop garden.

"This is our dream, but it is really not that far away," Mundie said. "And if you think about the extrapolation from what [Microsoft entertainment and devices division president] Robbie [Bach] showed in the Xbox utilization of this camera technology to what I've shown here, we see a pretty direct path to make this happen."

For now, however, the Project Natal technology is far from ready even for the Xbox, and questions remain about the Xbox group's ability to solidly deliver. After all, this is a division that had to take a $1 billion hit to create a fund to repair defective Xbox 360s after a rash of complaints from the gaming community, and that faces pending lawsuits claiming that the console also scratches discs.

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